Wanted: Love and Death on the Small Screen

orphan blackMy husband and I just spent a riveted month watching Justified, the FX show starring Timothy Olyphant as a modern day U.S. Marshall in rural Tennessee. I am feverishly counting the hours until the fabulous Orphan Black starts its third season. I’m also one of the millions who’s watching to see who dies next in the latest season of Game of Thrones. (I so hope it’s the genuinely creepy Melisandre but I’m sure I’ll be disappointed.) And while I’m not watching Outlander–I don’t get Starz–as soon as it’s available to stream, I’ll be glued to the story of Claire and Jaimie.

All three of these shows–and many of the others I’ve loved in the past few years–share two things: Love and Death.

I like complicated shows that show the intricacies of relationships. What then is more integral to human connection than the promise of love and the fear of death? I suspect one of the reasons I’m such a Buffy fanatic is that characters, people I’d become invested in, did die (and, of course, love) in ways that made me sob. I could never get into The Sopranos because there wasn’t a love story there I cared about and, without passion, all the killing left me cold. At the same time, love without the threat of death, is too easy for me. (I like my television on the intense side.) Unlike ever other member of my family, I didn’t care who the mother was on How I met Your Mother. (A death in the last episode of a nine season show doesn’t count, guys.) Even the smart coupling of Jim and Pam didn’t keep me hooked–once they were a done deal on The Office, I too was done.

Now that we’re done with Justified I am looking for some new shows to watch. My preference would be shows that are already finished (For example, I’m waiting for the show finales of The Americans and Mad Men.)

Here are my criteria:

  • At least two long term relationships (one of the romantic variety) which direct much of the plot and/the story development.
  • There are sexy times that advance the relationships rather than existing just to show skin.
  • Real loss is a part of the story–I’m not demanding the main characters leave this mortal coil, but, I need to have a reason to keep watching the relationships develop. (Six Feet Under did this well, if you’re looking for an example.)
  • At least one of the leads is a strong woman. Additionally, women are not punished for being sexual, cranky, or smart. (Sadly, this writes off the vast majority of TV.)
  • The dialogue crackles. (Think Deadwood or Friday Night Lights.)

Got a show that you think I’d like? Let me know in the comments! Until then, I’m off to watch An Honorable Woman.

Posted in Dabney AAR, Television | 16 Comments

TBR Challenge: Modern Love

longsimmeringspringFor April’s TBR Challenge read, I dove into one of my RWA book boxes in search of a contemporary, and came up with Elisabeth Barrett’s Long Simmering Spring. This novel is a 2013 Loveswept that simmered quite a while, but never did come to a boil. For the first time in a long while, I found myself with a DNF on my hands.

Haunted by memories from the war in Afghanistan, Cole Grayson is now home in Star Harbor. Star Harbor is a small New England town, so guess who’s the sheriff?  That’s right – Cole has his demons to wrestle but he’s been cleared for law enforcement duty. To be fair, Cole’s brothers also have books in this series and they can’t all be the sheriff, so if you read more by Barrett, you’ll get some non-sheriff, small town romance.

Once back in Star Harbor, Cole finds himself face to face with a memory from high school – Julie Kensington. Julie is now a doctor and she has returned home to run a small private practice clinic. Coming face to face with Cole once  more brings out all kinds of feelings in Julie that she just doesn’t want to deal with. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Reading | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Speaking of Audiobooks: An Audio Take on AAR’s 2014 Annual Poll

It Happened One Wedding lg

Note: Our “For the New Listener” feature appears below our Annual Poll discussion.

It’s evident to participants in AAR’s Annual Poll that the results are based on the reader’s enjoyment of the print version of each book (although it’s not ever implicitly stated). But does a winning book’s inclusion on the resulting Best 2014 Romance Novels list indicate the best in audiobooks as well? Well, sometime yes and, unfortunately, sometimes no. A narrator has such a strong influence on the audio version of any fictional book that they can lift the overall audio grade to a higher level or lower it significantly.

That’s what today’s column is all about. We’re taking a look at AAR’s 2014 Annual Poll winners (the print versions) and reviewing the probability of such a winning status in their existing audio formats. Just which winning books can you comfortably search out to enjoy as audiobooks?


Best Romance, Best Contemporary Romance, Funniest Romance, Best Romance Couple, and Tied for Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance)

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

Narrated by Karen White

Easily the biggest winner of the 2014 in print format was Julie James’ It Happened One Wedding. It is with more than a little enthusiasm that I can jump in and recommend it strongly in audio format as well. Julie James and Karen White are simply a dynamite author/narrator team. I thoroughly enjoyed It Happened One Wedding and believe it would rate among the top 2014 audios if we ran an audiobook poll!


Best Romantic Suspense

River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz

Narrated by Amanda Leigh Cobb

I was surprised to even find this one in audio format as I hadn’t heard any buzz about it. It’s a Recorded Books release which is a good indicator of quality production. However, the narrator was relatively new to the industry when recorded (only six previous titles – all Harlequin series) and that tends to keep audio enthusiasts at a distance, waiting to jump on board until they see success with a more prominent title. I checked with fellow listeners and while a few had listened to River Road, none were impressed by Cobb’s narration.


Best Paranormal Romance

Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh

Narrated by Angela Dawe

As Book 13 in the Psy-Changeling series, I’m a bit surprised to see Shield of Winter as Best Paranormal as it requires a good amount of investment in the series. However, there’s no doubt as to the immense popularity of the series and narrator Angela Dawe is quite loved as the series narrator.


Best Romantic Science Fiction

The Kraken King by Meljean Brook

Narrated by Alison Larkin

With the audio version of The Kraken King, you have a book that has received high grades for its content tied to a narrator whose work, while good, doesn’t seem to reach into that desired A range all that often. From what I have seen, The Kraken King would likely be decent listen although probably not a stellar one. 


Best Romantic Fantasy Fiction

The Winter King by C.L. Wilson

Narrated by Heather Wilds

Again, the audio version of The Winter King has a good narrator – I’d listen to her without reservation. However, I haven’t seen that many listeners absolutely wowed by her performance. 


Only EnchantingBest Historical Romance Set in the U.K. and Honorable Mention for Most Tortured Hero

Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Rosalyn Landor consistently receives high grades. She has the art of narrating European Historical romances down. If you enjoy Ms. Balogh’s writing, you are in for a real treat with the audio version.


Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K., Best Romance Heroine,and Most Kickass Heroine

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

Rosalyn Landor has been a big hit with Courtney Milan’s books – she’s narrated eight Milan titles. The Suffragette Scandal is another listen sure to please.


Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K. and Honorable Mention for Best Romance Hero

Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James

Narrated by Susan Duerden

Susan Duerden is a personal favorite when it comes to European Historical Romance. The combination of her narration with Ms. James writing has inspired positive comments all around. I’m predicting that the audio version will be quite a treat, especially for James fans.


Honorable Mention for Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K.

Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne

Narrated by Kirsten Potter

Kirsten Potter narrated Ms. Bourne’s first audiobook, The Spymaster’s Lady, in 2010 much to the delight of romance audio enthusiasts. Tantor chose Ms. Potter to narrate four additional Bourne titles in 2014 and all are excellent quality listens.


My Beautiful EnemyBest Historical Romance (Not Set in the U.K.), Biggest Tearjerker, and Honorable Mention for Most Kickass Heroine  

My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas     Narrated Charlotte Anne Dore

I love Sherry Thomas’ writing – and I do mean love. Therefore it saddens me when her writing isn’t matched up with the best of narrators. After seeing numerous comments on Ms. Dore’s performance, I must say that My Beautiful Enemy is probably best experienced in print format.


Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance) TIE and Most Tortured Hero

Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran     Narrated by Alison Larkin

Ms. Larkin is the narrator above discussed in The Kraken King. She’s good.


Honorable Mention - Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance)

Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh     Narrated by Justine O. Keef

Scheduled to be released in audio format on May 5th, I have my fingers crossed. I haven’t listened to Ms. Keef but reviews show average to above average narration grades. I will definitely be listening.


Best Category Romance

Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect by Jessica Hart     Narrated by Redd Horrocks

After listening to the sound sample, I would not consider listening as the pacing is poor and there is little to no differentiation of characters. Plus it plays as though set to an accelerated speed. Stay with the print version.


Best Young Adult

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins     Narrated by Grace Blewer

The sample is not promising in the least. The narrator has only three titles and reviews at Audible run along the lines of “needs re-recording and worst narration ever.” Again, stay with the print.


Honorable Mention Best Young Adult

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas     Narrated by Phillip Battley

Audible lists only five narrations for Phillip Battley but the sample sounds promising. Caz provided me with her thoughts, “…if I were reviewing, I’d be looking at a B or B- grade, so not at all bad.  The narrator is British which helps, he’s quite expressive, and has a nice voice…”


Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements           

A Grave Matter by Anna Lee Huber     Narrated by Heather Wilds

I haven’t listened to A Grave Matter and I can’t locate an audio review among our Romance Audio Goodreads group either. See my comments on Ms. Wilds above in The Winter King.


Never Judge a LadyBest Romance Hero, Honorable Mention for  Romance Heroine, and Honorable MentionMost Kickass Heroine

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean     Narrated by Justine Eyre

Justine Eyre is a popular narrator for the most part. She has a unique voice that some love and some dislike. I’m in the Justine Eyre camp after listening to Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. I may just give the audio version of Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover a try after seeing the Best Romance Hero award.


Honorable Mention for Most Kickass Heroine – two featured above plus…

Kate Daniels in Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews     Narrated by Renee Raudman

Ms. Raudman is one of my favorites. I know Magic Breaks is one dynamite audiobook!


There are no audio versions of  Having Her by Jackie Ashenden (Best Erotica/Romantica), A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant (Best Romance Short Story), Think of England by K.J. Charles (Best LGBT Romance), and The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan (Best New Adult).

Here’s hoping this rundown inspires you to listen to some of the 2014 Annual Poll Winners rather than merely read the print version!


For the New Listener – Joining Goodreads


It’s not all that easy to consistently find well-written audiobook reviews. I don’t rely on Audible’s reviews. In fact, I rarely pay attention to Audible’s ratings unless one is on the low side – a good indication that something is very wrong. Audible and Amazon are filled with good reviews for poor books or senselessly low rated reviews based on some whim other than “Is this a good audiobook?”

I encourage new romance audiobook listeners to tie into an audiobook community that they can visit day in and day out. It’s the reason I started the Romance Audiobook Goodreads group in 2010 as an extension of Speaking of Audiobooks. You can join Goodreads without creating a bookshelf if you are hesitant to do so. It’s easy and free to register. Tell Goodreads your favorite genres. You will then be provided a sampling of  books within your preferred genres and asked to rate those you have listened to (read). Once you have twenty on your list, Goodreads will provide you with personalized recommendations.

But most important for the new romance listener who is looking for those much-needed recommendations? Join a Goodreads romance audio group. I’m using our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group here as an example. You will find a number of ongoing discussions from What Are You Listening To? to Bargain Audiobook Deals to Have You Listened to This Narrator? to Buddy Listens to Audiobook Giveaways. And that’s just a small portion of what you will discover.

Romance Audiobooks Masthead smBefore joining any public Goodreads group, you can view the discussions without actually joining the group – you can’t comment, however. Once you find an audiobook group that works for you – join. As you view these discussions, note those members whose tastes most align with yours. Request a friendship. If a group member sees a few romances on your bookshelf, they are more likely than not to accept your friendship. Once you are “official” Goodreads friends, you can see each other’s reviews and recommendations. There are many options to choose from for viewing (or not) your friends’ ratings and comments. I choose to see ALL my GR friends’ reviews or comments in an email each day. It’s often long but it is a useful tool for me, as an audiobook columnist, to spot trends.

Before requesting friendships, it’s wise to spend a little time building a shelf which entails finding a book you have listened to (or read) and simply adding it to your shelf. You then check Read, Currently Reading, or To-Read and, if you have listened to (read) a book, rate your experience. You don’t need to add your thoughts but doing so helps build your friendships as members are cautious – many need to see tastes  similar to their own on your shelf to accept your friend request.

Each time you listen to a book, rate it on your shelf. Your friends will see your ratings as they occur (if you want – you can hide and I do occasionally). But remember, the more you share, the greater your ability to discover quality audiobook recommendations.

The purpose of your Goodreads audiobook group is to discuss audiobooks and the industry, provide recommendations, notify each other of news and events, and discover romance audiobook sites (where you will find even more recommendations). Although self promotion is not allowed in our Goodreads group, bloggers, narrators, and authors are allowed to post announcements in the Authors/Narrators/Bloggers News section. Speaking of Audiobooks (SOA) is the one column (AAR’s site) allowed to promote freely in the Romance Audiobooks group since it was originally formed to extend SOA discussions. We are now knocking on the door of 1,000 members!

Goodreads, if used correctly, allows you to build a network of audio listeners, reliable recommendations, sales, sites and blogs, and news of the audio industry.


Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles on interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks - keeps growing and now has 997 members. We started this group five years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.

Enjoy your listening.

- Lea Hensley

Posted in Annual Reader Poll, audio books, Lea Hensley | 17 Comments

An Evening With Susanna Kearsley

IMG_2420Last evening I had the chance to see Susanna Kearsley in action at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library here in Virginia, and it was such a treat! This time around, she was on tour(there’s still a few stops upcoming!) and promoting her new release, A Dangerous Fortune.

A nice big crowd packed one of the library’s biggest auditoriums, and it was so much fun to see so many enthusiastic readers. Seriously, the library closes at 9 but the signing and chatting portion of this event was still going strong well past closing time!

So, what did Kearsley have to say? Well, we started with a Q&A, and then readers threw in all manner of questions about her books, her writing process, and even history in general. If you’ve never heard Susanna Kearsley speaking live, she’s a wonderful storyteller and I learn something new about writing and history every time. This time around, we got to hear that: Continue reading

Posted in Authors, Lynn AAR | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Midweek Minis: the RITAs, Part One

The RITAs, the highest award of distinction in romance fiction, were announced last month. (The entire list is here.) We’ve reviewed many of the books nominated this year. (A list of all of our reviews with links is at the end of this post.) We’ve had a great response to our mini-reviews so I thought it would be fun to ask our staff for their takes on the RITA nominees they’ve read.

So, without further ado, here is Part One of AAR’s RITA Minis.

LinnieGayle’s takes:

I’ve been on a huge Sarah Mayberry glom over the last year; thankfully she has an enormous backlist. While I haven’t loved all of her books, I’ve liked the vast majority, and Her Kind of Trouble is near the top for me, a clear DIK. Parts of the book are very sad, parts are very funny. Ms. Mayberry tugged at my emotions throughout, but I enjoyed it all. A hallmark of Ms. Mayberry’s books is her ability to make interesting, complex characters; this is no exception.

The story begins ten years earlier when Vivian – the flighty sister and aspiring fashion designer– is preparing to attend her sister’s pre-wedding dinner. She meets Seth – the brother of her sister’s fiancé – right before the wedding. Seth’s a wannabe rock star, touring with a band. Everything about his bad boy persona appeals to Vivian, and aided by too much champagne, the two have hot sex in a limo at the reception. They each agree it’s a one-time thing, and that neither is interested in marriage.

The story picks up ten years later with Vivian – a professional stylist – back in Melbourne after years in the U.S. Seth gave up his dreams of rock stardom and owns a bar in Melbourne. The attraction is still there, but neither really knows who the other is, and they each make judgments that the other is still as irresponsible and wild as they were during their hook-up. To make the situation more complicated, Seth is having a baby with a former, very casual girlfriend. When his ex is critically injured in a car accident, the doctors save the baby, while his ex’s life is in jeopardy.

I loved this book, but it won’t work for everyone. There’s major sadness involving Seth’s ex and her parents. Then there’s the critical role his infant daughter Daisy plays. And for some, Seth and Vivian’s final, happy resolution may come at a bad time. For me, it all worked, and I look forward to many more books from Ms. Mayberry. Grade: A-.


After avidly reading each In Death mystery within days of release, I’ve been on a break from Eve and the gang for over a year; I just got tired of some of the serial killers featured in the latter entries. But about a month ago I began missing all of the familiar characters and downloaded Concealed in Death. I started reading it at the start of a long flight, expecting to read for about an hour and then fall asleep. Instead, I read all night, finishing it one sitting. Yes, I really enjoyed it, and am so glad I’ve picked up the series again. I enjoyed both the mystery and personal parts of this story.

I found the mystery interesting and different, focusing on some long ago murders. At the start of a rehab of a newly purchased building, Roarke and his crew discover the bodies of 12 girls – murdered over a decade earlier – hidden within a secret wall. As a huge fan of  Bones, I appreciated the involvement of a new forensic anthropologist, and the techniques use by her and her assistants to help identify the victims. But more than anything, I really enjoyed the personal parts of the story. Eve and Roarke have come so far, as have many of their friends and colleagues. We got some interesting insights into Mavis’ past in this entry, as well as into just how much Mavis and Eve have meant to each other over the years. I’m eager to see where the future takes all of the characters, but am also considering a reread of Naked in Death just to remind myself of how drastically they’ve all changed. Grade: B+.

Caz’s takes:
The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a self-made man who, despite the wealth he has amassed, still finds himself drawn to the less salubrious areas of London where he grew up, and the young woman fallen on hard times who is searching for her missing brother.

Emma Northcote and her father had to leave their home after her brother Kit gambled away their family fortune, and she now supports them by working in a Chop House.  One customer in particular catches her eye – a young, shabbily dressed young man who intervenes to save her from the unwanted advances of a group of rowdy drunks, and who then falls into the habit of walking her home.  It’s not long before Ned Statham and Emma fall into a friendship which then turns to more, and the author does a terrific job in setting up the depth of the attraction between them.

I really liked that Ned isn’t your usual, commitment-phobic historical hero – he’s in as deep as Emma and isn’t afraid to admit it, but of course the fact that he has concealed his true situation in life (and the fact that Emma hasn’t told him the truth of hers either) drives a wedge between them.  This might not be the most original of plotlines, but what kept me reading The Gentleman Rogue was the depth and sincerity of the emotion on display, and I can forgive much in the plotting department when an author tugs at my heartstrings as Ms McPhee did in this story. Grade: B.


Douglas can be read as a kind of ‘prequel’ to Ms Burrowes’ Wyndham books, as much as it stands on its own as one of her Lonely Lords series. Anyone who has read The Heir will have already met Douglas, Gwen Hollister and her daughter Rose, and here, their backstory is fleshed out. Douglas Allen seems at first to be rather cold, unfailingly correct and a bit stand-offish, although to be fair, he has good reason to be all those things. His older brother has just died, leaving him with a mountain of debts, an estate that he has never been trained to run and a younger brother and mother who complain of his every effort to curb their spending. In the previous book in the series (Andrew), he was also suspected of attempting to cause harm to Astrid (his brother’s widow), although now, as the truth of the situation has come to light, the Alexander brothers – Gareth and Andrew – have extended the olive branch and are on the way to becoming steadfast friends.

Struggling to manage his estates, Douglas is at sea until Andrew suggests he visit their cousin, Gwen Hollister, who runs one of Andrew’s properties very successfully. She is all but a recluse, having retired there after the birth of her illegitimate daughter, Rose, who is now five years old. Gwen is very self-reliant and even the mighty Alexander brothers are somewhat in awe of her and have tended to leave her to herself, because it has seemed to them that that is what Gwen wants. It’s what Gwen thinks she wants, too – until she is brought to see the disadvantages such isolation could bring to her daughter, as well as to realise that perhaps having someone else to shoulder some of her burdens may not be such an insupportable idea.

As ever with a Grace Burrowes book, there’s a nice dose of angst, as well as very strong characterisation all round, fantastically written male friendships and a deeply passionate central romance. It’s one of my favourite books of this series. Grade: A.


Fool Me Twice is a beautifully written story that goes to some dark places, as its hero (or anti-hero) is a snarling, bitter, husk of a man, one so filled with rage at the woman who betrayed him and the world in general, that he seems on the very edge of madness. Lord Alastair de Grey, Duke of Marwick, was a rising star in the political firmament. Tipped as a future Prime Minister, the death of his wife exposed the truth of his marriage; that she was regularly unfaithful to him with his enemies and frequently gave them sensitive information. Turning his fury inwards, he doesn’t leave his rooms, he barely eats and takes no interest in anything at all. His servants are terrified of going near him because of the threat of violence and as a result are running wild in the house with nobody to care what becomes of either house or master.

Olivia Johnson applies for the position of housemaid, and ends up running the household – but she has motives other than working for a duke. She’s seeking information with which to bring down the man who is seeking to destroy her, and believes she will find it in Marwick’s residence.

What follows is a delicious slow-burn of a story in which Alastair is gradually coaxed back into the world of the living by OIivia, who stands up to him, regularly disobeys his orders, answers him back and, most importantly, tells him the truth and refuses to allow him to wallow in self-pity when he has so much to offer. Ms Duran sails pretty close to the wind by making her hero so thoroughly unpleasant at the beginning of the book, but it’s a mark of her talent that she can make the reader care about him even when he’s being a total arse. The writing is wonderful and the protagonists are among the most strongly characterised I’ve read in the genre. The romance is beautifully written, and Ms Duran takes her time with it, building the sexual tension gradually but potently, giving even the slightest touch a real emotional and sensual punch. Grade: A.



Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is a variant on the Beauty and the Beast theme, with penniless spinster, Isolde Goodnight – Izzy – meeting her beast in the form of the blind Ransom Vane, Duke of Rothbury when she unexpectedly inherits the castle of which he is actually the owner.  Ransom had lived rather a dissolute life before being blinded some months earlier, and has now retired to his remote home in order to lick his wounds and have the biggest self-pity party in history.  He doesn’t want Izzy there and tries everything he can think of – including kissing her senseless –to scare her away, but she’s having none of it.  The only child of a famous author, Izzy’s life consisted mostly of parental neglect and Making the Best of Things, so she’s used to having to shift for herself and sets about putting Ransom’s ruined home to rights.

Making Izzy the child of a famous author enables Ms Dare to take some rather delightful pokes at fandom but also to explore a darker side to Izzy’s existence, in which her father was too preoccupied with his own success and fame to pay much attention to his only child except when it suited him, his public persona meaning she could never speak out and say how she really felt.  She’s spent her life being “little Izzy Goodnight”, the girl for whom her father’s famous tales were written, and living up to the public’s ideals of her.  Ransom may be blind, but he’s quick to notice how frustrating that has been for her and is the first person ever to see her as a soft, curvaceous and enticing woman.

Ms Dare is justly renowned for her ability to write sharp, witty banter, and she has penned some terrific exchanges between Ransom and Izzy.  In addition, both protagonists are very well-drawn, engaging characters who clearly need each other very much.  I did have a few niggles with the book – the ending was too silly for my taste, and there are a number of historical inaccuracies in the story, but in spite of that, I enjoyed it very much. Grade: B+.


RITA nominees reviewed at AAR:

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev. Review by Lynn. Grade: B.


The Sweetest September by Liz Talley. Review by Maggie. Grade: C.


Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran. Review by Blythe. Grade: B+.


Where the Horses Run by Kaki Warner. Review by Mary. Grade: B+.


Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. Review by Caz. Grade: B.


The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee. Review by Caz. Grade: B.


Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare . Review by Caz. Grade: B+.


My Lady, My Lord by Katherine Ashe. Review by Caz. Grade: B.


A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt. Review by Lynn. Grade: C.


Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb. Review by Blythe. Grade: B.

Posted in Books, Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Mini reviews, RWA | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Guest Pandora’s Box: Carolyn Crane’s Against the Dark

Hello everyone and welcome to the third of our AAR blog columns. The basic idea is that we’re going to choose a book every month and have a discussion about it. We’re still Elisabeth Lane (of Cooking Up Romance), a long-time romance reader who now creates recipes inspired by books and then blogs about it, and Alexis Hall (author of, most recently, Waiting for the Flood), relative newcomer to the romance genre and occasional writer. And – super excitingly – today we are joined by AAR’s own Dabney.

*pause for cheers*

Dabney: I am excited to be here. My fangirldom for Carolyn Crane’s books is well-documented. (And, whee, she just got a RITA nod for Into the Shadows, the third book in the Associates series.)

This month’s title is Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane. It’s a romantic suspense so we don’t want to spoil too much of the plot but basically: she’s a safe cracker, he’s a secret agent, and they team up to bring down a bad guy.

AJH: Omg, how good was this book!

Elisabeth: OMG SO GOOD.

Dabney: I read it when it came out and honestly jumped back. Romantic suspense is a tough genre to do well. One part almost always suffers. She rocks both in this book.

AJH: I literally read this book in a sitting. I can’t remember the last time I did that with anything, but I absolutely could not put it down. I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with romantic suspense – as you say, it tends to be either/or but here, the suspense was super-suspensy and I thought the romance was really well-judged because it didn’t try to do too much.

Elisabeth: I agree that the romance and suspense plots were really balanced well, even though they spend like the first 25% of the book apart.

Dabney: Until almost the very end, it’s really a sex and suspense book. Which is fine with me.

AJH: Yes, that’s a really good point. I mean, it doesn’t try sell the idea that this is a conventional relationship, so it doesn’t follow a conventional relationship pattern either. I was happily convinced they were perfect for each other and obviously in love by the end, but I liked the way it was sort of essentially setting up a future for them as a crack team of bad-guy bringer-downers. I believed in that more than I would have a more ‘solid’ HEA.

Dabney: One of my favorite things about this book is that Angel’s relationships with her girl gang have more emotional resonance than the romance for most of the story. I loved loved loved the opening scenes where they are stealing the diamonds. And the lucky lipstick. I want a lucky lipstick girl gang now.

Elisabeth: The lucky lipstick thing made me laugh. It’s just this self-conscious moment where I knew that this book wasn’t going to take itself so seriously. There was almost a Charlie’s Angels element to it.

Dabney: So often in romance, the hottness of women is external to them. Men see their charms and the men respond. In this book, Angel and her friends are very in control of the way their sexual appeal is used. That really worked for me.

AJH: I confess it did take me a little while to settle into the ‘main’plot because I was kind of heavily invested in the opening scenario of Three Women Criminals Have All The Adventure And Are Awesome. But the romance was nice too :P

Dabney: “pulls herself out of her childhood memories of Charlie’s Angels”  Yes. I enjoyed the TWCHATAAAA thing. I also like the Associates Man Love thing. It offered a nice balance. Both the hero and the heroine have genuine friendships outside the h/h relationship and these external relationships have heft.

Elisabeth: It’s interesting that you mention Cole’s friends. Because I deeply distrusted them. I wasn’t totally sure that one of them wasn’t…I don’t want to give away too much…but wasn’t causing problems. It turned out not to be the case, but I was suspicious throughout.

Dabney: See, that worrisome ambivalence worked for me. The Associates are not nice people. Their iffyness made the suspense super suspenseful.

Elisabeth: It’s interesting that you mention that the Associates are not nice people–they’re really not, at least not in the classic sense of nice. And neither is heroine Angel. So when it comes to differentiating them from the “real”bad guy, I kind of understood why Crane had to go pretty dark.

AJH: I thought both the hero and heroine were interesting contrasts in morality, actually. Angel is really troubled by her criminal past and her own inner ‘ugliness’(as she sees it). Whereas Cole seems very much committed to the whole ‘greater good’ thing – I mean I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where the hero spends about 70% of the book committed to sacrificing the heroine.

Dabney: And by greater good, you mean saving kids from featuring in snuff films. Crane does give her hero such a high moral island–if he were just, oh, killing meth heads, he’d be a harder character to root for. And yet, I’m not bothered by that. Crane establishes from the get go that Cole’s a bad man trying to prevent a horrific possible wrong. He’s a shadow hero–lives in the grey–and, in this book, that makes the story pulse.

AJH: Yes, but doesn’t that …almost simplify the morality, in some way? Because you have this tension between an abstract good (boat full of kids about to suffer a horrific fate) and a specific person in whom you’re invested (the heroine). But the abstract is so hyperbolic–it’s not even human trafficking, it’s human trafficking specifically for snuff–that I almost couldn’t engage with it.

Elisabeth: I’m not sure I needed the moral grey area there. I feel like we already had quite a bit of grey with Cole’s murderous present and Angel’s criminal past. It kept the grey in a place where it prioritized the romance rather than forcing us to to place any kind of value or concern with the villains. Walter (which is so weird because it’s my dad’s name) is just a really bad guy. And he had to be stopped. So whatever else was going to happen, I liked knowing that part was taken care of.

Dabney: This story reminds me of this issue we had to write a paper about in 7th grade. (It was the early 70’s. And Marin County.) We had to say whether or not we would kill someone whom, if we didn’t, would blow up the world. In this book, the option of NOT saving those kids is so untenable, I don’t think any reader thinks it’s a possibility. What is a possibility is that Angel AND Cole might not both survive. That shift of narrative tension makes the book interesting.

AJH: That’s a good point. I was legit scared for them. Quite a trick when you know a happy ending is fundamental to the book you’re reading. I guess what I find …semi-troubling? Or at least a bit dull about these shadow-hero types is that because they’re supposed to morally dubious themselves you always end up with a villain who is so ridiculously evil it’s a wonder he’s not walking around in a kitten skin coat, y’know? And I know the world has nasty people in it, really nasty people, but it’s like Walter is …well, he’s so sick it’s practically pantomime.

Dabney: Not to go all deep here, but, maybe the real villains we root against in this book are the dark sides of Angel and Cole….

AJH: Ah yes, also true. Um, since we’re talking about Walter, there’s an awful lot of violence in the book, most of sexualised, and a lot of specifically centred on women. If you’d both be happy to talk about it, I’d be really interested in hearing how you felt about that.

Elisabeth: One of the things I really appreciated about this book, more than almost any other romantic suspense I’ve read, is that the violence here seemed entirely appropriate and necessary. I also don’t think it’s terribly overly sexualized. There’s a scene where a very bad guy captures the heroine, which seems inevitable in this sort of thing, but instead of going straight for the part where he slices off her top and tries to rape her, he breaks her finger. He tortures her just like he’d torture a man. There’s no pulling punches because she’s a girl. And he assumes she’s the expert bad-guy catcher. So there was just this moment where I felt Crane had been very fair to her in portraying her as just as capable as a man.

AJH: Definitely – I was glad to have avoided the …sexualised menacing scene I was sort of braced for. I don’t read a lot of romantic suspense but I have so say that heroine-actually-tortured was a level of threat I wasn’t actually prepared for but, weirdly, it is kind of equalising.

Dabney: Crane’s Angel is genuinely Cole’s equal in terms of bad assedness. This isn’t one of Anne Stuart Ice heroines–here, the woman is not only as essential as he is to MAKING EVERYTHING TURN OUT OK, she’s also, in some ways, more necessary. I mean, can we just take a moment to praise Angel’s coolly astonishing safe cracking skills?

Elisabeth: Angel is the kind of Very Strong Heroine I really like. So many times, we’re told that a heroine is strong and independent, but Angel really is. She’s not only a very competent safe cracker, she’s also a terrific interior designer. She’s just successful at everything. I kind of want her to be my best friend.

Dabney: Yep. On my Buffy scale, she’s a ten. She earns her HEA on her own terms. This is a story where the guy is so damn lucky to get the girl rather than the other way around. I like that. A lot.

AJH: This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Complete convert to romantic suspense, which honestly I’ve never seen quite as deftly and successfully done as it is here. Scary violence is scary though.

Elisabeth: I’m a complete convert to Carolyn Crane. I can’t wait to read everything, starting with the next two books in this series. In fact…I’m going to run off and start those right now.

Dabney: This was a blast. Thanks for inviting me. Oh, and, what are you all reading next month?

We hope you’ll join us in the comments for more discussion of Carolyn Crane’s Against the Dark.

And if you want to read-along at home, next month we’ll be looking at: Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale.


Elisabeth and Alexis



Posted in Dabney AAR, Guest Posts, Pandora's Box, Reading, Romance reading | Tagged , | 15 Comments

I’ve Been Mulling over the DA/Jen Frederick Disclosure But It’s Not Looking Any Better

I’ve spent enough time in Romlandia to see that there are kerfuffles that seem huge and all-consuming but then, after all the ink is spilled and spleen is vented, they’re quickly forgotten. And then there are things like the Big Reveal Jane Litte dropped last week. The effects of that little revelation keep spreading, and I suspect we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

As someone who has observed, participated in, and written about books and this community for years, my first instinct was to dive right in, and start reporting with a timeline. But my gut kept telling me to stop and weigh my words a bit. A mentor I’ve long trusted always told me to listen to the gut and I’m glad I did this time.

My first reaction on hearing Jane’s news was, “Okay, good for her,” but then more facts started coming out. And as I tried to put together all the facts, I started to see problems. And I’m not the only one.

Right out of the gate, Wendy the Superlibrarian put words to the vague unease that settled over me soon after the announcement, and I found her blog enlightening. In it, Wendy indicates that the whole affair “looks squirky.” It does indeed. Continue reading

Posted in Lynn AAR, Publishing, Romancelandia | Tagged , , , | 42 Comments

AAR Poll Winners and the Test of Time

Commenters in the forums posed an interesting question: How do AAR Annual Poll results hold up over time?

I went back to explore the winners and honorable mentions for Favorite Romance for the first five years, figuring those gave enough distance to see which books remain popular today. I used subjective measures (do I feel like these books still get buzz?) and the objective data in the AAR 2013 Top 100 poll (do winners each year continue to beat other books released that year, or have other books surpassed them?). Please note that each poll reflects books published the previous year (ie the 1997 poll is for books published in 1996).

1997 Poll (1996 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney; Honorable Mentions: Anyone but You by Jennifer Crusie, Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts), Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Mary Jo Putney is an author whose appeal has long eluded me – I really don’t like her prose – but Shattered Rainbows remains a popular recommendation. Rapture in Death probably made the list because of its wide distribution and readership; it doesn’t particularly stand out to me among the many Eve Dallas books. I love Anyone but You, which gets overshadowed by more prominent Crusie works. Kiss an Angel is a book I personally find very dated, with a hero who is emotionally abusive. However, it clocked in at #40 on last year’s Top 100 poll, and no other book from this year placed.

1998 Poll (1997 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; Honorable Mention: As You Desire by Connie Brockway.

Both of these books turned up on the 2013 annual poll, with Nobody’s Baby at 18 and As You Desire at 51. While personally, I’d reverse these placements, it looks as if readers did a good job picking books with staying power and placing them in a consistent order. This is also the year of Brockway’s All Through the Night and Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly, both of which won or received honorable mentions in other categories but did not place for Favorite Romance.

1999 Poll (1998 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Sea Swept by Nora Roberts, Honorable Mentions: Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Mine to Take by Dara Joy

Dara Joy – now that’s a name I don’t hear in recommendations anymore! Dream a Little Dream has had the best longevity of these options, placing 79 on the 2013 Top 100. However, it was beaten by several very popular books from 1998, including Stephanie Laurens’s Devil’s Bride (32 in the 2013 Top 100), MJP’s The Rake (54), Loretta Chase’s The Last Hellion (57), and Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy (74). A different Roberts books, Rising Tides, came in at 93. This is by far the year with the greatest disparity between AAR Annual Poll and long-term popularity in the Top 100. Was there something in the water when we voted in ‘99?

2000 Poll (1999 Books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: The Lady’s Tutor by Robin Schone; Honorable Mentions: Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, The Proposition by Judith Ivory

A win by an author who doesn’t come up much and a book that’s fallen out of discussion. Interesting that Schone was an early erotic writer (although that category did not exist independently) and I can’t see erotica taking the top spot these days despite the fact that we think of ourselves as living in an age more friendly to that subgenre. None of these books continue in the Top 100, although I perceive both Lady Be Good and The Proposition as widely read and recommended. All three have lost in the long run to Julie Garwood’s 1999 release Ransom, which is currently at 75 in our Top 100. My personal favorite from that year is Suzanne Brockmann’s Heart Throb.

2001 Poll (2000 Books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth; Honorable Mention – Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie.

Neither of these books won in the long run against the juggernaut that took Favorite Funny: Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me, which came in at 9 in our most recent Top 100. In fact, in the 2013 Top 100, both winners lost to Quinn’s other 2000 release, The Duke and I, which ranked 16: Welcome to Temptation was 20 and Winter Garden didn’t place.

Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect, currently at 41, came out that year without making the Favorite Romance category, and so did Mary Balogh’s More than a Mistress (53). The only one of all of these I haven’t read is the actual winner, Winter Garden. Of the remainder, I’m hard pressed to choose between Welcome to Temptation and More than a Mistress, both of which made my personal Top 10.

What do you all think about the first five years of AAR poll results? Despite a few misses, I think on the whole we did a good job identifying good books. Do you agree? What do you think was the biggest upset? Were any of your favorites robbed in these first few years, or do you truly loathe some books which made it in? Am I missing any great 1996-2000 releases?

Caroline AAR

Posted in Annual Reader Poll, Caroline AAR, Polls, Romance | 15 Comments

a guest post and a giveaway from USA Today best-selling author Jessica Scott: The Military Hero in Romance

I am fortunate to know, in real life, author Jessica Scott. She’s part of the fabulous romance community in my area and we’ve gotten to know each other over the past few years. Jessica recently spoke at Unsuitable, a series of events being held this spring at Duke University that focuses on women’s interests and popular fiction. I’d planned to go hear Jessica speak but found myself stuck at home instead with a bitch of a cold. I asked Jessica if she’d share the gist of her speech with AAR and, because she’s a lovely person, she said yes. She also offered a giveaway to one lucky reader, the details of which may be found at the end of this blog. Thank you greatly, Jessica.


This contest is now closed.


The alpha male in romance tends to be kind of a dick. He’s powerful, he’s forceful, he can be pretty selfish. Then along comes the heroine who may or may not force him to change. I think we’ve got some pretty stereotypically limited roles for romance heroes: cop, firefighter, Navy SEAL, billionaire, Duke, vampire or werewolf. I’m not saying these are the only romance heroes out there but they tend to be a large segment of the market. Why is that? Well, that’s complicated.

If we look at the Greek pantheon, we used to have all these different gods and goddeses that were different aspects of being male or female. We had Ares, Apollo, Hephasteus, and Hermes. Ares was the god of war, Apollo was wisdom, Hephastus the master of the forge and Hermes was the messenger god. All of these gods were archetypical males but in romance, we’ve narrowed it down to alpha and beta males.

Alpha is also shorthand for protector in a lot of ways. If you look at the jobs these alphas tend to have in romance novels, many of these jobs are shorthand again for protector. Cop, soldier, firefighter – these are protector archetypes.

For me, that is actually what defines a strong alpha character – at least one that I want to read about.

I have zero desire to read some of the alphaholes we’ve got running around the genre these days because I don’t connect with them. They’re not alpha – they’re just an asshole and unless the author is someone I trust to really take me in and show me that no there’s more to this character than the asshole you see on the surface, I’m not buying it. Someone who does the redeemed alphahole beautifully is Nalini Singh in Archangel’s Blade. In the first three books of the Guild Hunter series, Dmitri is a terrifying man whore. He threatens to kill one of the main characters and is an all around womanizing asshole. But when his book opens and you learn the true depth of destruction that made him what he was, man, the transformation of this character is amazing. It’s one of my all time favorite books bar none.

The military hero is somewhat paradigmatic in the genre. Military – and especially Navy SEAL or special forces – is shorthand for a) badass and b) selfless. If you look at the most respected professions in American society, soldiers are at the top of the list. So when you write typical a military hero, you create a character willing to defend something beyond himself.

The military hero, though, suffers from some the same challenges that developing any character risks. You have to take the mold or the framework and turn it into an actual character. So how do you take your military archetypes – Navy SEAL, emotionally detached and or scarred – and make them into believable characters readers can connect to?

For me, in developing those characters, I start with a name and usually a rank. Whether they’re an officer or an enlisted soldier is going to shape a lot about their background simply because we know that there are pretty big divergences in who commissions in the military and who enlists. The name gives a label to this generic character in my head. Then I go to both of my go to writing books: Screenwriting Tricks for Writers by Alexandra Sokoloff and 45 Master Characters by Lynn Victoria Schmidt. Alexandra’s step in character development asks two key questions: What does the character want and why can’t he or she have it? In answering those two questions, you have set up the primary motivation not only of the plot but of what is making the character get out of bed every day. In answering the why can’t they get it, you’ve started excavating the roadblocks in the character’s way.

Sociologist John Dewey says that action is people going about their habitual daily life and the problems they encounter. So you’ve got your character in their normal environment and then you have to define the problem they encounter.

My environments are different from most romance novels. I set them in the active duty life I lived at Fort Hood for a few particular reasons. I love a sexy Navy SEAL as much as the next romance reader, but I was tired of the romantic suspense or the life after the military stories I kept finding. I wanted to write about the changes that not only our army as an organization has gone through but what the men and women serving have gone through.

We’ve been at war since 2001. I’ve been on active duty both before the war started and have lived through the changes the war has had on our force. I wanted to tell the story of that change. Not the Navy SEAL but the everyman. The guy in the battalion ops who is so jaded and cynical. Where did that cynicism come from? How does that impact his life? Or the crusty sarn’t major who seems so mean and cruel but he’s doing everything he can to bring his boys back from war. War is so much more complex than one bad explosion or losing your best friend. There’s this entire environment around soldiers that is largely foreign to the broader American public and that environment influences choices. I wanted to tell those stories in a way that would actually reach readers outside of the military echo chamber.

So I take these characters which are largely a name and a rank in my head and figure out what their interaction with their environment is. What’s their normal life? Then what is going to change? So the hero in All For You, Sarn’t First Class Reza Iaconelli, he’s a warrior. He’s Achilles pure and simple. His best friend is another warrior – Captain Claire Montoya – and if you want a nice divergence, try writing a female warrior. It’s easier today then it was in the past but it’s still really challenging which is probably why I keep doing it.

But back to Reza. He fights and he knows that he’s good at it and he gets really irritated when something gets in the way of preparing his men for the fight. And therein lies the problem: Captain Emily Lindberg is a problem for him. She’s working to keep soldiers in a military Reza doesn’t believe in remaining soldiers.

In his book The Righteous Mind Jonathan Haidt argues that morality blinds and binds. It binds you to a group but it also blinds you to the world beyond your group. My heroes are strongly bound to their group. Their identity is often wrapped up tightly in being a soldier. And they’re all pretty damn certain about the world they live in and the way that it works.

Then along come the heroines and they hold up a mirror and show those men that the world may not be the world they thought it was. It’s not that they’re wrong so much as it’s that they’re not right.

The challenge for me as the author is to set up a way for both my hero to be right and my heroine to be right. I don’t want to break either of them. The idea of a happily ever after for me is not one being wrong or right but to find a partner who makes you better. So back to Emily and Reza, Emily is strong enough to tell him she’ll stand with him if he wants to try and heal from his alcoholism but she’s also strong enough to walk away if he can’t do it. Reza has to realize that he will be a better man if he’s with her then if he’s not – that there’s more to life than the war he’s allowed himself to sink into.

The central idea in all my books really is coming home from war. It’s not just getting off a  bus and putting on civilian clothes. It’s changing everything about the way you interact with the environment. It’s changing the people you are around. When you’re deployed, the people around you are other warriors. The normal world that you take for granted here – going to the grocery store, toilet paper in the bathrooms, or even just going to sleep with the relative certainty that you won’t die in your sleep – are all things we don’t really think about every day. But when you come home, it’s a culture shock. The only place you feel “right” is with the people you were deployed with. And it’s a process to reconnect with your family. And for someone who has never had that connection, it’s a complete upending of his way of interacting in the world.

The military heroes in my books are drawn from the men and women around me. I try to put a human face on the military- to knock it off the pedestal our society has put it on. My heroes are flawed, deeply. Some are scarred by war like Noah from Before I Fall. Others, like First Sergeant Sorren from Homefront, are haunted by the choices they made and the major events they missed because of their service. Still, readers have managed to fall in love with my heroes, despite their flaws, and I am so grateful for every reader who picks up one of my books. With any story, character is key. Make your military characters believable and real and most importantly, strong and the story will follow.

USA Today Bestselling author Jessica Scott is a career army officer, mother of two daughters, three cats and three dogs, wife to a career NCO and wrangler of all things stuffed and fluffy. She is a terrible cook and even worse housekeeper, but she’s a pretty good shot with her assigned weapon and someone liked some of the stuff she wrote. Somehow, her children are pretty well adjusted and her husband still loves her, despite burned water and a messy house.

She’s also written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View Regarding War, and IAVA. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of OIF/New Dawn and has had the honor of serving as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas twice.

She’s pursuing a graduate degree in Sociology in her spare time and she was featured as one of Esquire Magazine’s Americans of the Year in 2012.

Jessica is also an active member of the Military Writers Guild.

She has very generously agreed to give some lucky AAR reader digital copies of her entire backlist and a signed copy of It’s Always Been You. (US only) To be entered in this giveaway, leave a comment below.

Posted in Authors, Characters, Dabney AAR, Guest Posts, Heroes | Tagged , | 20 Comments

an interview with author Jo Goodman

Jo Goodman has been writing romance novels for over thirty years. Six of her books have been Desert Island Keepers here at AAR. Many of her historical romances have been set in the US and, for the past several years, she’s written tales set in the late 1880′s on the American Frontier. I’ve been reading Jo’s work since I first began reading romance and am thrilled to get the chance to ask her some questions.

Dabney: Hi Jo, thanks for talking to AAR.

Jo: Always a pleasure to hang out! I appreciate you having me.

Dabney: Your latest book, This Gun for Hire, (a DIK here at AAR) is a western set in Stonechurch, Colorado in 1888. It is not, like the books before it, set in Bitter Springs, Wyoming. Is this book a stand-alone or will it introduce a new series?

Jo:There will be a follow up book featuring a character mentioned in This Gun for Hire. The story will not take place in Stonechurch, but it will include roles for Calico and Quill from This Gun for Hire.

Dabney: Stonechurch, Reidsville, and Bitter Springs are all small frontier towns. What calls to you about that setting?

Jo: Laziness. I enjoy creating the town, spending some time there, but by using the town for more than one story, I don’t have to keep researching and thinking about the lay of the land. I have it pretty well set up in my mind.

Dabney: You are, if I recall correctly, a counselor who routinely works with young people. Many of your heroes and heroines have suffered childhood sexual and violent abuse. In your writing, these victims find their way to happy endings. Is there a tension there for you? Does being able to envision joyful outcomes make it easier or harder to see real lives with less positive ones?

Jo: There is a phenomenon in my work called secondary trauma. This can affect those of us in the helping professions who come face to face with people who have experienced complex trauma. We listen to the stories and cannot help be moved by the experiences, and we keep on listening because these children (and adults) deserve to be heard and often need help to find perspective and hope and healing. Over time, if professional counselors do not care for themselves, the piling on of stories not only hurt your heart, they suck at your soul because the damage is so profound on an individual level and the problem of abuse is so overwhelming on a system level that you can feel helpless. So…I write. It keeps me sane. It keeps me useful. It helps me think about resilience and resourcefulness and reinforces my deep respect for every life well lived.

Dabney: I have read many of your historical romances and enjoyed them all. As I think about them, I can’t think of a single truly bad boy hero. To a man, your heroes are men of honor who take scrupulous care to treat the women they love with respect and sensitivity. Would you ever write a bad boy?

Jo: I can’t quite get my head around a bad boy. I don’t really get the appeal. The bad boy redeemed by the love of a good woman is a tragic myth and makes for a tragic marriage. That’s my take on it.

Dabney: Your books are wonderfully filled with intricate details about the worlds in which they are set. What’s the most interesting research you’ve ever done for a book?

Jo: I always feel like such a fraud when I have to answer questions about research. I don’t think I do as much research as readers seem to think I do, but that could be because I have a head so crowded with odd bits of information that my sister calls me with a question before she googles. (Okay, I was ready to say that was a gross exaggeration, but just as I was starting to write that, she interrupted me with an iMessage with a question she could have asked Siri or googled. Weird.) But back to your question, I suppose the most interesting research was reading about asylums for the mentally ill in the 1860s. There were some terrifying therapies done in those days, and I use the word ‘therapies’ very loosely. I remember one treatment in particular that was practically waterboarding.

Dabney: You’ve written European histories, Westerns, and–I think–one contemporary. Why just the one contemp?

Jo: Time. I really don’t know how writers who have full time jobs manage to write more than a book a year. I squeezed the contemporary in between two historicals, and I enjoyed writing it, but I was exhausted, and not much fun to be around. And then it took 10 years to get it into print. I imagine that I will write more when I retire, or at least reduce my hours.

Dabney: Quill, the hero of This Gun for Hire is, like most of your characters, well-spoken with a prodigious vocabulary and intellect. I am assuming you research word usage from that time. What are some of your favorite words you’ve found that we no longer use in American speech?

Jo: It’s not so much that I find words we no longer use, it’s that I use words that the characters would not have known. I constantly have to check word origins and the date they were first used. Sometimes I play a bit loose with that. Copy editors are really word detectives, and if I miss something, they find it. For instance, I didn’t realize ‘ashtray’ wasn’t a word until 1876. For crying out loud! What did they call it? And potbellied stove? 1936. Don’t even get me started. I do have this terrific little book a friend gave me called Endangered Words. It’s filled with words that will probably just disappear for lack of use. Perfectly good words like desipience, which means foolish trifling or silliness (I randomly plucked it out of the book). The word seems to be so rare spell check doesn’t recognize it and underlined it with the red squiggle. See, that makes me giggle.

Dabney: The heroine of This Gun for Hire, Calico, is a bounty hunter. Were there any female bounty hunters in the 1880′s? Why did you pick that profession for her?

Jo: I have no idea if there were female bounty hunters. That’s the making it up part that I love about writing, but it did seem plausible.

Dabney: What’s next for you? And please tell me we haven’t heard the last from Rabbit and Finn.

Jo: I’ve already finished the follow up book. As for Rabbit and Finn, I liked those rascals, too. I’m not certain I have a book for them. There’s a bit of Peter Pan in me, and I don’t necessary like to see my kid characters grow up.

Dabney: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us!

Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Interviews | Tagged , | 14 Comments