I Haven’t Done My Homework

27313682I’m going to admit something extremely embarrassing in this post.  Please don’t condemn or judge because I’m slowly working to overcome what I perceive as my deficiencies.  Do you ever sometimes feel like there’s unofficial “required reading” for romance?  Or maybe that you’re missing elements of romance knowledge which would enable you to be a more informed reader simply because you haven’t read certain authors or you’ve missed some of tomes that are considered “great” works?  I do and I hadn’t realized until recently just how much I’ve missed along the way and how much catch-up I still have to complete.

I’m almost embarrassed to write that in terms of big, sweeping, epic romances, I’ve managed to miss The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons.  I’ll be on the verge of taking the plunge (because I do want to read them) when I’ll read comments about their story and back out because I fear it will  be too heart-wrenching of a journey. The same applies to Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie and Claire.  While I’ve read Outlander and loved it, I can’t make myself continue yet because of the time gap.  Nor have I read Dorothy Dunnett and the Lymond Chronicles, but I plan to – very soon.  All of the above – sacrilege, I know.

Where I feel the most lacking is in the paranormal category.  Sadly, I haven’t read J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series or any Nalini Singh.   It’s not that I’ve been avoiding either of these two authors, it’s just that I haven’t had the time to fit them in.   I also haven’t read Sherrilyn Kenyon, Laurell K. Hamilton, Christine Feehan, and Lynn Viehl.  I’m working to correct this appalling lack of education, as sometime I really feel as though I don’t know quite enough about vampires and werewolves.  Seriously.

When it comes to romantic suspense and contemporary romances, I’ve done a smidgen  better.  Saying that however, I have to admit I haven’t read any of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, although at times I am a little relieved that I’m not addicted to this one.  Nor  have I read Jennifer Crusie or Rachel Gibson, but to my credit I have read many of Susan Elizabeth Phillips books.  However, I haven’t read any Nora Roberts (although I have read J.D. Robb) or Linda Howard.  Why?  I honestly don’t know.

Growing up, historical romances were readily available and lying around the house since my mom read them voraciously.  Because she had ‘em, I would read ‘em.  Therefore, I’ve actually got the historical category covered as I’ve read Kleypas, Putney, Balogh, Beverley, Chase, Quinn, Goodman, and a slew of others that I consider fantastic writers.  Yet again, I managed to miss some big names in romance – Amanda Quick, Connie Brockway, LaVyrle Spencer,  and Laura London.  One day, I’ll fix this too.

However, I’ve saved my biggest reveal for last.  I’ve only read one, just one, Georgette Heyer book.  Only one.

Do you ever feel that there are romance books that you need to read.  Are there any that you’ve missed that you intend to read, but just haven’t had the chance to yet?  Do you think that reviewers should read certain “unofficially required” books before reviewing?

-AAR Heather

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25 Responses to I Haven’t Done My Homework

  1. Marcella says:

    Don’t worry, you’re one step ahead of me: I haven’t read any book by Heyer…
    …yet, because I very much have the feeling I NEED to read at least a couple of her books in particular.

    Mary Balogh is another one I feel I must read. And maybe JR Ward, but I’m still not sure I will.
    And new authors for me in the past months were Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh, Suzanne Brockmann and Karen Marie Moning, so…

  2. Marcella says:

    And personally, I don’t think anyone SHOULD read certain books, whether they review books or not.

  3. RfP says:

    When I asked for help filling in my reading gaps, I got some wonderful suggestions. The comments from that post kept me reading new-to-me authors for months, and I discovered a couple of new favorites. So “should” can lead somewhere good!

    But as for “should read” books and reviewing, I think it depends on the review’s style and purpose. “Reviewing” in the sense of describing your emotional response to a book requires nothing but yourself and a book. OTOH if you write a broad-brush critique, it might behoove you to know something about the genre or subgenre you’re discussing. Unless you *want* to ignite a storm over remarks like, say, “the romance genre was invented in 1982″ or “romance demands bodice-ripping” or “erotic romance destroys the happy ending”. In that case maybe it’s best *not* to know too many authors whose work contradicts your point :)

  4. xina says:

    I think one of the really great things about the romance genre is that there is so much to choose from. I’ve read some of the favorites and enjoyed them, some I’ve tried and haven’t been able to get through (Lymond. I try yearly) and some I never will. I’ve never read Heyer, although I would like to someday. I used to turn up my nose at Balogh and think all her books were beyond depressing, but one day tried again, and…got her. Something clicked, so I’m glad I tried again. Perhaps that is why I attempt Dunnett once a year. I’m hoping for that click with such a well-loved author.

  5. MarissaB says:

    AARGH, Heather. I feel this way every time I read a DIK on AAR, or come across a highly recommended author on one of the blogs.

    I have glommed to my heart’s content and now feel I MUST STOP because all my 4 book cases (6’ x 4’) and one closet are overflowing. (Actually, now that I have boxed some of the books, I still have room in the closet. Yes!)

    Not only do I feel that I SHOULD read most of these books, but that I must also keep up with all the new releases of authors I like, plus all the new authors that AAR recommends. To help with the space issues, I purchased a Kindle 2 months ago. It now has 151 books on it, many of them the freebie classics offered by Amazon. . It’s not that I like feeling overwhelmed, I just want to have choices. ;-)

    Of the 36 Heyer books that I own, I have read and loved 25. Heyer is a definite MUST READ.

  6. jebe says:

    I’ve been reading romance since my teens, with gaps on and off throughout. I think we all tend to have a “genre of choice” and that’s where we’re most read. I’ve read scores of contemps, from category to single title. I’ve tried all the big players Krentz, Roberts, Crusie, Gibson, SEP and tons of mid-list and unknowns, too. Some I liked for a while then lost interest, some I never liked and others I still read.

    For me, I think the “experience” reading these authors helps when taking part in threads b/c if someone mentions a book, I have a point of reference. Whether I liked that book or not. So, for the reference factor, I like the concept of required reading. :wink:

    Having said that, though, this past year I read Dunnett’s first book in the Lymond Chronicles b/c I wanted to understand what everyone kept talking about and sadly that didn’t work out too well for me. It was hard and I’ll be the first to admit that I have only a shadowy understanding of what went down in that book. So Required Reading 101 was a total bust for me in that category.

    I keep telling myself that I’m gonna try it again, though. Just like I keep telling myself I should try Heyer and Gabaldon! One of these days I’ll put checks in those boxes, just for reference’s sake! :)

  7. xina says:

    jebe….About Dunnett, I felt the same about the first book. I got tired of wondering what I was reading and just read it through, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. Now the 2nd book was much better. Much clearer almost as though Dunnett had changed her style somewhat. I got through the 3rd book and read 1/2 of the 4th. I put it down one day and didn’t go back. Hopefully, I can pick up #4 again and finish.

  8. Kristian says:

    I have to admit I’ve read most of that unofficial required reading list. However, I don’t really think a reviewer should really have to read them, especially if they specialize in one specific genre or type of book. Although I have to admit that if you like reviewing historical romance (European and Regency) you probably should read more Georgette Heyer; I’ve noticed that many historicals have the same main ideas and stock characters found in her novels (which I have to admit are some of my before 1970′s favorites).

  9. Samantha says:

    Alright, I have to admit that I absolutely love Georgette Heyer- all of my reading of modern historical romances stems from having read all of hers and desperately wanting more! So I feel I have to recommend a few Heyers (they’re all good of course, but some are far above the rest):

    1) Cotillion
    2) Venetia
    3) Sylvester
    4) These Old Shades
    5) Devil’s Cub

    There, I managed to limit myself to five! As for this notion of ‘required reading’, I have to disagree. Romance is such a massive genre, it’s impossible to like it all- for instance, I’m not a fan of paranormals apart from the occasional Amanda Quick.

  10. Michelle says:

    This may be controversial, but I’ve always thought there was an age divide on Heyer. If you were gen x or y, you may not have read Heyer – or read her and did not like her or get her. The first several times I tried Heyer I thought she was so wordy and not nearly interesting as the best ’90′s and ’00s authors of historical romance. If you were a boomer or older, you loved her. I always wondered though if that’s bc she’s all that was available for so long.

    But, I have read a few Heyers that I thought were charming – e.g. Frederica and The Nonesuch. Like lots of other authors, she’s hit or miss for me.

    I read the first Lymond book and started the 2nd, but the 1st was such a frustrating read that I couldn’t make myself read more than 20 pages in #2 much less the next 3.

  11. mingqi says:

    I’ve also missed out on a lot of the titles/authors you had mentioned.
    I do plan to read the Lymond Chronicles since a lot of people have talked about it and it seems like a cool series. Not sure about Outlander. It’s got some great feedback, but I’m not into time travel and the whole thing with her having a husband in both times.

    There is just so much to read! I’m more into historical romance and even in that subgenre, I’m barely keeping up with all the authors.

    Since paranormals/urban fantasies are so big nowadays, i often feel a bit deficient by not reading them. However, I do keep up with the romance genre across all subgenres by reading all the reviews, so that i won’t be completely clueless when someone makes a reference to them.

  12. Laurie says:

    Don’t feel bad – I haven’t read any of those either – except for Outlander and I am possibly the only person in the world who didn’t like it. I’ve also never read anything by Georgette Heyer. Started one once but just didn’t like it. Like Michelle said above, I also started the first Lymond book and just could not get into it. But I don’t feel deficient and I don’t feel any need to experience the entire gamut of romance novels genres. I simply do not like nor am I interested in anything of the paranormal, shape-shifting, urban fantasies. Don’t understand all of the interest in vanpires, etc. but everyone is entitled to their own taste. And I know these books are very well written, the reviews certainly point that out. But I don’t feel compelled to read them.

    I freely admit to being a romance novel junkie of the historical variety. I also like contemporaries. And I have enough trouble just keeping up with all of those choices. And like mingqi says, I keep up with all the genres by reading reviews, blogs, etc. I feel that is enough.

  13. Victoria S says:

    This was an interesting post. As I was reading it, I thought to myself’ “thank God it’s not just me”. There are books considered classics that not only have I not read, but some of them I’ve never heard of. With that being said, I think the answer to your questions is a resounding NO! We are blessed with a variety of writers and genres in the romance field, and we are free to partake as many (or as few) as we wish.
    Only a book snob would insist there are certain books that “must” be read by anyone. I have never read a Heyer, but that is not to say I won’t…just not right now.
    Like Laurie, paranormal doesn’t interest me, but thanks to all the writers who produce them for their fans.
    I couldn’t get past Outlander either, even after I had bought them all. I ended up giving them all to my sister who,at the time couldn’t afford them ,but loves ‘em.
    I have just recently heard of the Lymond Chronicles, and am going to try one. I have also recently heard of Lauren Willig and her “Pink Carnation” series which I am gonna try.
    Are there certain books I am very glad I’ve read…Yes. But that only makes them required reading in MY mind. When I’ve enjoyed a book, I want everybody else to feel what I felt as I read it. As I get older, I realize life is too precious and varied for me to hold forth on what “SHOULD BE’. A good cup of coffee, and beautiful sunny morning on the back porch are the best “requireds’” for reading.

  14. Ell says:

    Very interesting subject……If I was one of the reviewers I think I would try to at least read most of what most fans of the genre would consider the classics, for comparison if nothing else. If you haven’t read the best of the best, how can you grade/rank the books you’re reviewing accurately?

    I am SO relieved to see that other people have had trouble getting through the first book in the Lymond Chronicles – I’m having fits with it, and I was thinking it was just me!

  15. katie bug says:

    If you don’t read any of those books please please please read “Windflower” by Laura London. Also you could get some of these titles in audio books. That way you can listen while doing chores or driving.

  16. Tinabelle says:

    A very interesting commentary. IMHO, I think it would be very tough to come up with a list of “Required Romance Reads.” There are so many genres and sub-genres that it would be impossible to come up with an agreed-upon list. I have been reading romance for several decades and have learned that like anything else, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what a broad range of people think are the classics? I kind of look at the AAR’s List of 100 All-Time Best Roamnce Novels as a type of classics list and I know the votes were all over the map on that poll.

    And so many people tend to prefer one genre over another. I read mostly historicals with some contemporaries thrown in for good measure but have no real interest to read chick lit., urban fantasy, erotica, vampire books, heavy paranormals, fantasy “other world” books, much romantic suspense, etc. And even within my own preferred genre of historicals there are many eras that I haven’t much interest in reading.

    I think my reading tends to be out of the mainstream and I don’t feel any guilt about what I read. I read for my own pleasure so I read what I want. Sometimes I have succumbed to the buzz about a genre/sub-genre or author I don’t normally read. Sometimes I am surprised and like the book, but many times I am just reminded about why I don’t read that type of book or author. I am really open to trying new authors in my preferred areas but admit that I am more reluctant about venturing outside my comfort zone.

  17. Wendy says:

    I’ve always tried to read recommended books in various genre’s and I could never get through “Outlander”. This has always made me feel slightly guilty, as it is so many reader’s favorite.

  18. RobinB says:

    When I was in college, my closest friends were reading “The Game of Kings”, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, so I started reading it, also, and the three of us basically read the entire series simultaneously. I’m not sure that I’d be able to get through the entire series again, as I’m of the opinion that one’s reading skills change the farther away one gets from “required” (i.e. educational) reading. And Dunnett’s style is not what I would call “light”! At any rate, there are many authors in the romance genre that I haven’t sampled, and yes, Georgette Heyer is one of them. Although I’m fond of books set during the Regency, it just never occurred to me to read Heyer!

    On the other hand, I loved the first three books in the Outlander series, liked the fourth one, but I’m still struggling to finish the fifth one. Ms. Gabaldon is a talented writer, but apparently, her editor doesn’t think that any of Ms. G’s manuscripts need editing. Since book #7 in the series comes out in September, I suppose I should accelerate my efforts to finish book #5. Otherwise, I’ll be reading the last one in the nursing home!

    Bottom line: You like what you like, and if your reading taste changes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  19. Annie says:

    Georgette Heyer’s novels are very different from today’s prose writing style and they are “pure regencies” in the sense of their use of slang expressions. That can make them tough going at first but once you get into her style, you will find it charming. She is closer to the writing style of Jane Austen than today’s romance authors.

    If you want to ease into Heyer’s novels, read some of Patricia Veryan’s books. (Her Golden Chronicles made desert island keeper status on this site) Veryan’s books were written in the later 80s/mid 90s, and I think her style is a happy medium between Heyer and modern romance. Lots of period turns of phrases and dialogue but also romantic tension and some suspense.

  20. Katie Mack says:

    If those books are required reading, I’m failing! I haven’t read Gabaldon, Heyer, Austen, Brockmann, Ward, Dunnett, Simons, Kleypas, Chase, and on and on. (Though several are on my TBR list.)

    My main subgenre has been contemporary, with some romantic suspense, for the vast majority of my romance reading years, so I’m doing much better on that front. I’ve only been reading historicals for about a year — and I have to take breaks from them — and I rarely read paranormals, so I sometimes feel like I have a whole lot of catching up to do!

  21. Doreen says:

    Missing from this list are Jude Devereaux and Kathleen Woodiwiss. I’ve read all the other authors and enjoyed them.

    But if we’re really compiling a list of must read authors, those two figure large.

    Woodiwiss wrote the first book in which the hero wasn’t an a$$hole – Shanna. The heroine was, but the hero wasn’t. This was the 70s and there was no forced seduction, the heroine had all the power in the relationship. I often wonder why this book is so overlooked, since the power paradigm is inverted.

    With Devereaux, I guess A Knight in Shining Armour is her most recognized. There’s the one with the big heroine, I think it’s called Wishes? Someone correct me.

  22. Abi says:

    Ell said: “If you haven’t read the best of the best, how can you grade/rank the books you’re reviewing accurately?”

    I pretty much review in a vacuum. Maybe I’ll sometimes think of other genre-specific books for technical issues in world building (paranormals) or accuracy (historicals) but the meat of the review is very low if not completely absent of comparisons.

    Also, once we start talking of “the best of the best” that’s going to be a whole ‘nother discussion – one without end and without agreement.

    I’ve never read Heyer and I haven’t even heard of some of those names! I’m not averse to reading them though, but no rush, in my own time.

  23. coco says:

    You’re so lucky! You have so much good reading ahead of you… I’m jealous.

    I think wide reading within the genre can allow you to give more comparisons to how the author writes and which readers will appreciate her work, but every reviewer, especially the voluntary ones, are readers first and shouldn’t force themselves to read anything.

    I haven’t got into Heyer myself and do consider it a deficiency because a lot of romance novel references are based around her work- I imagine it’s a little like trying to study English Literature without reading Shakespeare or Ovid or Chaucer, you get a lot out of it but having read them you could get a lot more.

    I also think there are some new authors like Meredith Duran and Sherry Thomas that are changing modern romance and should be read. However, again, no one should be forced to read anything that they aren’t ready for; I hated Kinsale’s work at 14 while now I love it.


  24. LizA says:

    I am going to go against the flow here and opt for required reading. Not that I want to force anyone to read anything, really, but I do think there are books that one ought to read, so you can understand where things are coming from, and judge accordingly. I once read an onile review of a regency that was clearly a rip off of one of Georgette Heyer’s novels. The reviewer never read Heyer and did not pick up on it, and posted a glowing review about the interesting charcters and the original plot…. in the course of the discussion, someone pointed out the similarities. it was quite embarrassing for the reviewer, who removed her post. Knowledge can and will change perceptions of things – what’s original the first time round, is a cliche ten years later.
    I do not argue that everyone should have to read everything, or that you should feel guilty about not having read someone who does not work for you. But I do think it is a good idea to give some writers a try, even if they are classics. Some of those books are excellent!

    As for Heyer, I do not think her appeal has anything to do with age, but rather with style. Some people enjoy her style, and others find it “wordy”…..

  25. hilly says:

    The background and experience of a Reviewer are inevitably revealed to their audience – as are their biases and limitations.

    Certainly the Reviewer should aim to be well-enough read to communicate effectively with her/his audience.

    Naturally, the Reader wants to discover a reviewer with similar tastes and a shorthand language that is created within a shared frame of reference.

    This may not be possible in every instance, but it’s the goal of the Reader who is looking for recommendations.

    Whether books or movies (think: Gene Siskal, Roger Ebert, Rex Reed, et al), the Reviewer should have sampled a wide enough variety that a reader can have a good idea of whether their tastes and opinions mesh.

    And yes, I believe that every romance reader should take a stab at the Classics (Austen, Bronte, Orczy, Heyer) in order to recognize plagarism and appreciate tribute. And to get/give depth: You might like the movies Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You, but you can appreciate them more after having read Emma (Austen) and The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare). That goes double for reviewers.

    Subjective opinion is fine – and desirable! – but having an informed opinion gives it more weight and elevates the review from the level of school book report.

    IMHO, of course. ::wink::

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