Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Sisters…Nailed It!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

sisterEvery romance needs a hero and heroine, but sometimes a secondary relationship is so striking, so interesting, that it almost steals the show. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, about Elizabeth and Darcy. But it’s about Elizabeth and Jane too. Some of the best moments and the best dialog are about them, and about their relationship and their differences. Series and stories involving siblings are a dime a dozen, but books that really nail sibling relationships are a lot rarer. We see a lot more Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (with its very surface relationships…Bless her beautiful hide!) than we see the Bennett girls.

When someone gets it right, it feels like a bonus. My recent favorite is Courtney Milan’s novella, The Governess Affair. It is of course about a governess and a former boxer turned finance man of sorts. But it’s also about sisters. Serena (the titular governess) is the bolder sister who, after she is raped by the Duke of Claremont, stations herself outside his home every day, vowing to keep her vigil until he agrees to support her child. Her sister Frederica is basically agoraphobic. Frederica can’t understand why Serena takes so many risks. Serena can’t understand how Frederica can live like she does – or how it is even living. They love each other, though they don’t understand each other. Toward the end of the story, Serena thinks:

Maybe Freddy would always think Serena strangely broken, and Serena would always cringe, thinking of her sister ensconced in her rooms, slowly turning to stone. There was no convincing each other, no understanding each other.

But when Serena had most needed it, her sister had given her a place to stay. For all that Freddy made her stomach hurt, they still shared an affection made bittersweet by all that divided them. Perhaps God gave one sisters to teach one to love the inexplicable.

I was so struck by the last line that I texted it to my own sister – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done before. She’s an artist, with all the creativity, originality, and free-spiritedness that implies. We love each other but tend to see life differently. I’m not sure she’s ever understood, for example, why anyone would spend years writing about romance novels when one could spend years writing romance novels (though she’s stopped saying that…at least out loud). We found common ground over the Milan quote, which she liked as much as I did. It was more insight than I’d bargained for in a novella.

While I have seen authors handle easy, companionable sibling relationships well (Nora Roberts comes to mind here, but there are others), I was hard-pressed to think of books that really went below the surface, or delved into more complicated sibling relationships. Who can you think of who “gets” the sibling relationship and does it right?

Total aside about sibling differences: I could tell you every detail of the t-shirt my sister is wearing in the picture above, but I’d be very surprised if she could (remembering things from thirty years ago is more in my wheelhouse). Although you can’t see it, it has Snoopy on it – in sunglasses, throwing a frisbee. It was the last one of its kind in the BYU bookstore, and she got it in a fair-and-square coin toss. I had to settle for the much less cool one with Snoopy sleeping on his house. It’s okay – now that it’s been thirty years, I’ve decided to let my resentment go.

Love as a Bridge

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Do you believe in the power of love to reconcile what is opposite or different? I do. Not without reservations: Some positions are opposed too far to be overcome easily, for example a union between an unrepentant racist and a person who despises racism. And in some instances, where there’s no real compromise possible, love may not be enough to bridge the gap, like whether one wants to have children or not, a pet or not. But in many cases love may bring together people that hold opinions and beliefs that differ, and may make a relationship possible that both partners would have declined for rational reasons before they actually fell in love.

My own marriage is an example of the opposites-attract kind. My husband and I are respectively conservative and green, Catholic and Lutheran, of working-class and academia background. And our marriage works well. We still vote differently (sometimes arguing about details, but always respecting the other’s right to a different opinion), we take turns attending both our churches together, and when we visit with our families, one of us may sometimes roll his or her eyes at the other family’s idiosyncrasies, but always prepared for tolerance. (more…)

Sequel-itis: Where Do You Stand?

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

regencyIn her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention.  A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.”  This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.

For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait.  (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters…  Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.)  But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare.  Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels.  In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.


2012 Reading Year So Far: Chick List and Women’s Fiction

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Last week we featured a sneak peek at 2012 debut authors. This time, I’m taking an early look at Chick Lit and Women’s Fiction for 2012, a category that at times has been a bit of a problem in the Annual Reader Poll at AAR. Some years we pollsters wonder if we’ll have enough votes for any single title to declare a winner. This wasn’t the case in the 2012 AAR Reader’s Poll for books published in 2011, when Jill Mansell’s To the Moon and Back was the winner in the category. A number of 2011 books captured readers’ attention and received quite a few votes in the category.

But in other years we’ve had more problems. First, a lot of AAR readers avoid both genres and leave the category blank on their ballot. Now this isn’t a problem for the readers; I tend to have a number of blank categories on my ballot each year as well (Biggest Tearjerker, Best Love Scenes, Best Romantica/Erotica to name just a few).


The Big “I”

Monday, July 11th, 2011

2421311-LI don’t remember much from Psych 101, but I do remember Sternberg’s Triangle of Love.  Sternberg sees Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment as the three corners of love.  Pick any one or two components and you have various kinds of relationships; combine all three, and you have what he calls the Consummate Love.

Which is sort of what 99.99% of romance novels is about.  Except in the romance world, there’s a fourth corner: Fidelity.

Wait.  Isn’t that the same as Commitment?  Well, not according to Dan Savage, the love and sex columnist who was featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine two weeks ago.  He recognizes that monogamy is right for most couples, and that’s great.  What he doesn’t like is our society’s assumption that monogamy is right for all couples:

Folks on the verge of making those monogamous commitments need to look at the wreckage around them (Schwarzenegger, Clinton, Vitter)…and have a conversation about what it’ll mean if one or the other partner should cheat.  And agree, at the very least, to getting through it, to place a higher value on the relationship itself than on component of it, sexual exclusivity.”

Mr. Savage doesn’t support thoughtless infidelity, but he’s asking for smarter boundaries and honesty, an acknowledgement that: (more…)

Propose RIGHT!

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

balogh“Will you marry me? You would be well advised to say no.”

These are the words Edmond uses to propose to Mary in Mary Balogh’s The Notorious Rake. I first read it well over a decade ago, but it remains my favorite proposal in all of romance. And as a veteran reviewer of nearly twelve years, I’ve seen my share. Because I’ve seen so many, the unusual proposals stand out, and are duly noted. Also duly noted: A new Disturbing Trend, one you’ve probably noticed too. Heroines can no longer accept their first proposal from the hero. No matter how logical it may be, no matter how much they love the guy, they just can’t say yes the first time around.

Oh, we all know why. It’s because he didn’t ask right . The scenario goes like this: Hero and heroine have sex. It is 1815. She might be pregnant, because hey, it’s 1815. The hero, who has been in love with the heroine forever but just didn’t realize it, is secretly thrilled. Now, finally, he has an excuse to do what he’s been wanting to do for some time, which is ask this gorgeous woman to marry him so they can have sex legally whenever they feel like it. So he gets down on one knee, professes his regard and his fervent hope that she will accept his hand. Only to hear, “I can’t marry you! I won’t force you to marry me just because I am ruined and might possibly be pregnant!” Never mind that those are actually excellent reasons for getting married in 1815, particularly if you love someone anyway.


In the Company of Women

Friday, April 16th, 2010

designingwomenThis weekend I’m going to be at a retreat.  And, believe me when I say, I could definitely use it.

My destination is In the Company of Writers, a retreat sponsored by the Washington chapter of RWA and includes local luminaries who could not possibly be more luminous – Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Gaffney, Susan Donnovan, Sophia Nash, and Kathleen Gilles Seidel to name just a few.  And this year’s special guests are very special, indeed: Roxanne St. Clair and Charlaine Harris.  (And, yes, that was an internal fan girl squee you heard just now.)

The gathering also includes editors and agents, so the chance to learn more about the business side of romance will also be invaluable.

Despite the fact that I’m speaking on Sunday morning and will be a bundle of nerves up until that moment, you know what I’m most looking forward to?  Spending a relaxing weekend in an out of the way hotel with a group of wonderful women who share my love of romance and who love to talk about it just as much as I do.

It’s empowering.  It’s relaxing.  And, gee, it’s just plain fun.

I’ll be reporting more about the weekend soon – including more about the panel discussion on social media and reviews that I’m sharing with Barbara Vey of Publisher’s Weekly.  But until then, what the best way you know to recharge?

– Sandy AAR

Okay, so the photograph of the cast of Designing Women wasn’t exactly on target, but I’ve been remembering with great affection some of my favorite Julia Sugarbaker moments.  RIP, Dixie Carter.

Public Declarations of Love – Modern Style

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

facebookmarried For my generation, there is a very public way to declare a serious relationship. It’s not a class ring or letter jacket. The question “Have you been pinned?” died long ago.

Today, the question is, “Is it Facebook-official?”

Facebook offers several relationship options: Single, It’s Complicated, In an Open Relationship, and In a Relationship. When you’re “In a relationship” with someone, it’s for real. You’re committed.


Modern “Romance”

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

I’ll admit it, I never liked Sex and the City.  Its premise to me always seemed amazingly depressing, and the idea that women can take on men’s vices and then get old-fashioned fairy tale endings seemed counter-intuitive, if not outright delusional.  The Mr. Bigs of the world don’t date older average-looking, high-maintenance career women and marry them.  They may have sex with them, but no rings are exchanged.  Men who are Masters of the Universe marry supermodels whose skin is still dewy, whose boobs are still perky, and whose fertility is still in full bloom.  That may not be fair, it may not be romantic, but that’s the way it is.  Anyone female who survived high school and was honest with herself can give you a pretty accurate estimate of what her social value was and tell you which guys were “out of her reach” (as well as those she considered “below her touch”).  It’s the same after high school, with a fair number of other complicating factors thrown in the mix.


Bad Boys – How Bad is too Bad?

Friday, December 4th, 2009

badboys So, apparently Chris Brown has a new album out.


The fact that he isn’t in jail somewhere is hard enough to reconcile, but that his career is still viable? I’m truly shocked. Worse yet, prior to his assaulting Rihanna, he was a “good boy” in the music industry and now it appears he’s being marketed as a “bad (but sexy and non-threatening) boy”.