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 | 11 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.


 

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 , | 17 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 , | 13 Comments

Midweek Minis

Melanie’s reads:

Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

After all the raving about it this past year, I was really looking forward to this one. Honestly, though, I just couldn’t get into it. I loved the world that Lin created – the steampunk elements are so perfectly entwined with the Chinese society of the time, that I could easily believe it’s all true. I would definitely be interested in reading more books like this, with steampunk elements that are not based solely in England or the US.

Soling is an interesting character, and while I’m not sure that I would say she grows as a character throughout the story, she does come to understand those around her more. She’s incredibly brave – in a time and place where women could not travel alone, she is willing to do so for her family. She faces real danger, difficult decisions, and moments where she has to figure out who she can really trust. It’s fascinating. She just falls kinda flat – even though she’s on this incredibly emotional journey, reaching back into her less-than-happy past, worrying about her family (you know, whether they have enough food, whether they are alive, the basics), but I never really felt any sense of urgency from her. She talks a good talk, but it was a bit of a blank slate, especially from a first-person point of view. I enjoyed her relationship with Chang-Wei – while I did find him to be, at times, overbearing, it fits with the cultural history, and we get to see her stand up for herself (and against him) in different situations. I think their relationship definitely evolved from where it began (well, where it began in the book – there is also some history there that I’m trying not to go into because spoilers).

I think the thing for me, though, was that it just didn’t keep my interest going. There was something….off about the pacing that had me putting it down regularly. It took me the better part of three months to read as a result. The writing is good, the characters are good, the world-building is great, but still, nope. I think that there was just too much going on – we have the Opium War, a Western invasion, and rebellion breaking out, and each piece touched the story. Now, that’s great, that the author obviously made the effort and did her historical homework, but it just….yeah. I don’t know. Not bad, but it just wasn’t for me.  Grade: C-.


The Errant Prince by Sasha L. Miller

This one is a short m/m story (and I mean short – it’s at about 40K words), and while I wanted more in that world and with the characters, it still felt like a full story. That’s something I really appreciate – it doesn’t feel like a book 2.5 in a series, or half a story, but like a complete piece. It seems to be one of those things difficult to achieve for a lot of writers.

I really liked the addition of a trans character – Myron has binding on his chest, and there’s a mention of how he told his parents that he was their son, not their daughter. It was more a passing conversation, and not really a big deal, which was pretty great. Overall, I would love for this to become a series, and would happily read more – I love fantasy stories like this. Grade: A-.


Closed Eyes by Jerry Bomhan

Okay, I really wanted to like this. Like, really. And it isn’t bad. The writing is actually pretty good, the Japanese culture seems well handled from what I know, and the characters seemed interesting. I think for me, though, I had trouble connecting emotionally to either character, and so I just couldn’t really get into it. I really enjoyed the kick-ass heroine we have in Ryo – she’s strong and determined, and her relationship with Kei is really quite beautiful. While I wasn’t as much a fan of Kei, she is definitely a product of her time and station. I liked how their strengths and weaknesses were perfectly complementary – and Kei’s moment of realization is probably the most stirring moment of the story.

I also have to take a moment to praise Uzo, the villain of the piece. Except he’s not completely a villain. But he really also kinda is. I loved how his character was handled, and how he’s definitely not a good person, he is working with the ends justifying the means. It gives him more depth, to see the reasoning behind his actions, and his reasoning actually kinda makes sense. I mean, I don’t condone the things he’s done, but I understand why he did them. I love that.

Though I may not have been able to get into the romance, the fight scenes were absolutely fabulous. The author keeps the tension up throughout the story, using the natural highs and lows of the plot to propel things along – it was really well done. I also really enjoyed the physical world he describes – everything feels quite real. It’s a bit rushed, but there’s just so much going on. Overall, I thought it worked pretty well. Grade: B-.


Caz’s reads:

The third book in Stella Riley’s series of Georgian romances, The Player tells the story of a young man who was forced into exile in order to avoid scandal. Thrown out of his home and country with little more than the clothes on his back, Adrian Devereux spent ten years in France living on his wits and continually re-inventing himself. But unforeseen circumstances mean he must return to England, which will mean confronting society, gossip – and the man ultimately responsible for ruining Adrian’s life.

Ms Riley’s heroes are always utterly captivating – attractive, witty, intelligent and ruthless when necessary but with a vulnerable streak that only those closest to them ever see; and Adrian is no exception. He’s spent so long pretending to be someone else that he has almost forgotten how to be himself – in fact, he’s forgotten who “he” actually is, having decided that when it comes to emotions, it’s far less bother to act them than to feel them. It’s not until he meets his heroine, Caroline, that he starts to rediscover the man he’s meant to be. The Player is a delightful book, with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters. Grade: A.


Dabney’s reads:

Part-Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates is the first full-length novel in the new Copper Ridge contemporary series by the prolific Ms. Yates. (I read the entry novella, Shoulda Been a Cowboy, and found it worse than unremarkable. If it hadn’t been a novella, it would have been a DNF for me.) I decided to give Part-Time Cowboy a go, however, because I am quite fond of another of Ms. Yates’s contemporary series, the Silver Creek books. (Book Two of that series, Untouched, was one of my favorite books of 2013.)

Part-Time Cowboy was better than–and is it must me or is this an awful title?–Shoulda Been a Cowboy but it still left me wanting. This is a bad girl returns home and falls for hot good guy lawman tale. And that’s pretty much it. If you’ve ever read this story, this book has nothing new to offer you. The heroine Sadie isn’t really a bad girl–she had her reasons for her misspent youth and is now walks the good girl path. The rote hero Eli has an outsized dick to match his outsized Sadie-inspired libido and the best parts of this book are all the sexy times Eli and Sadie get up to… despite the fact that they just know they aren’t meant for true love. I did like the Eli’s extremely surly brother Connor quite a bit and will, despite having found the first book and a half of the Copper Ridge series uninspiring, read his book Brokedown Cowboy when it comes out in June.  Grade: C.

Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Melanie AAR, Mini reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Eagerly Awaited April Books

It sure looks like April is shaping up to be a month of big releases! Quite a few of us are excited to see new books from the likes of Susanna Kearsley, Simone St. James, and Jo Goodman. Releases from Julie Anne Long, Jenny Colgan, Grace Burrowes, and Eloisa James weren’t far behind. I know I’m hoping for some good reads next month. What about you?

Title and Author Reviewer
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley Lynn, Heather, LinnieGayl, Lee, Maggie, Alex
This Gun for Hire by jo Goodman This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman Dabney, Lea, Caroline, Mary, Jean, Lynn
The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James Jean, LinnieGayl, Caz, Lee, Lynn, Maggie
The Duke's Disaster by Grace Burrowes The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes Caroline, Anne, Mary, Caz
It Started With a Scandal by Julie Anne Long It Started With a Scandal by Julie Anne Long Mary, Caz, Alex, Lee
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan Lee, Maggie, Alex
Library Wars, Vol. 13 by  by Hiro Arikawa Library Wars, Vol., 13 by Hiro Arikawa Caroline, Melanie
Meant-To-Be Mom by Karen Templeton Meant-to-Be Mom by Karen Templeton LinnieGayl, Caroline
Fall With me by Jennifer L. Armentrout Fall With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout Anne
The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau Caz
The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris Melanie
Deep by Kylie Scott Deep by Kylie Scott Anne
All's Fair in Love and Scandal by Caroline Linden All’s Fair in Love and Scandal by Caroline Linden Dabney
Hard as a Rock by Christine Warren Hard as a Rock by Christine Warren Melanie
Silver Bastard by Joanna Wylde Silver Bastard by Joanna Wylde Anne
An Inconvenient Mistress by Caroline Kimberly An Inconvenient Mistress by Caroline Kimberly Lynn
Deep Focus by Erin McCarthy Deep Focus by Erin McCarthy Mary
A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall Melanie
Too Dangerous for a Lady by Jo Beverley Too Dangerous for a Lady by Jo Beverley Anne
Posted in All About Romance, Lynn AAR | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Taboo or not Taboo

One of the ideas I’ve had for this blog is The Taboo Bookclub. I envision that, every month or so, we’d pick a book for discussion that has a taboo in it. This idea, though, has proved easier to imagine than to implement. For starters, one person’s taboo is another’s who the hell cares. Additionally, there are so many types of taboos. There are character taboos–things like “I could never like a heroine who had an abortion.” There are context taboos–things like “I could never enjoy a book set in a religious cult.” There are taboos that involve both–”I refuse to read a book where the heroine has an abortion while living in a religious cult.” And there are taboos that that make my Twitter feed go crazy.

Furthermore we live–thank the gods–in a time where we respect each other’s limits. I might be fine with a book where the heroine cheats on the hero, but if you tell me you’re not, I’m not about to tell you you should be more open minded in your reading.

So, the Taboo Bookclub is still, at best, an idea in development.

But, were we to create one, I’m interested to know: What are your taboos in romance reading?

If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.

Taboo #1: The insta-pregnancy. I spent a very miserable year trying desperately to get pregnant so I now hate stories where the couple, despite using a condom and practicing withdrawal, find themselves preggers. It’s not only unlikely, it sends a message that birth control is barely worth trying. For me, it’s an almost lock that I’ll hate the book.

Taboo #2: Renesmee Cullen Syndrome. If a lead (like Jacob in the Twilight books) first fell for his/her true love when she/he was a child, that’s flat out creepy. I don’t mind the, wow, she’s suddenly a woman now love story, but tales where the guy watched the girl flower into womanhood are a no-go for me.

Taboo #3: The hero/heroine has sacrificed everything for for their true love but she/he still doesn’t trust in their feelings. There’s a scene at the end of Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s This Heart of Mine where Kevin, the hero, has gone way beyond the call of true love to show Molly he truly loves her and she’s still not quite buying it. So, he sorta kinda drowns her so he can rescue her and thus prove he is worthy of her love. I hate this scene. I hate it more than the sperm stealing scene which is, I suspect, more taboo for many. Grand gestures are fine. Grand gestures on top of grand gestures especially when the former require sacrifice or exposure to danger on the part of the gesturer make me want to shut the book and watch Orphan Black.

Taboo #4: Gorgeous apartments/cosy homes lived in by those with no strong source of income (or why I never liked Sex in the City.) Heroes and heroines who dwell in safe, quiet, architecturally interesting places in high priced zip codes annoy the hell out of me. A room in a crappy house in Brooklyn goes for 1300 a month on Airbnb. The heroine who lives in Chelsea in an adorable room over a Vietnamese restaurant run by sweet sages who give her free food all the time makes me fume. It’s a slap in the face to all those working their tails off just to pay the rent in Newark.

OK, OK. So maybe these aren’t taboos as much as preferences. I think that’s because I don’t really have any taboos. A great writer can make me buy into almost anything. And the things that bother many–adultery, abortion, arrogance, abrogation of the law–don’t keep me from reading and even enjoying romance.

But that’s just me.

What about you?

Posted in Dabney AAR, Romance reading | 53 Comments

TBR Challenge 2015 – Catch-Up Time!

moonglow I’m not normally one for vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters or paranormal romances in general, but I loved the first book in this series (Firelight) and this month’s prompt of “series catch-up” gave me the ideal excuse to read book two, Moonglow.

The things I’d enjoyed so much about the first story are very much in evidence in this one – the Victorian setting, a terrific storyline, strong characterisation and the amazing chemistry the author creates between her two protagonists. Once again, I was sucked in pretty much from the word go.

Daisy Ellis is the middle of the three Ellis sisters, the youngest of whom, Miranda, was the heroine of Firelight. Daisy was married off to a much older, abusive man six years earlier, and has recently been widowed. Determined to enjoy her new freedom, she is out for a night on the tiles with a friend when a gruesome double-murder abruptly puts an end to her plans for the evening. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Monday Minis

Dabney’s reads:

I first read Chase Me in November and loved it. Just loved it. So, while stuck in a surgery center waiting room for most of a Friday morning, I read it again. And loved it again. (I’m not sure my fellow waiting room waitees shared my love. My constant snickering garnered many a long suffering stare.) In this very hot contemporary, struggling actress Roxy Cumberland stole my heart–and that of sexy lawyer Louis McNally the Second–from the moment she appeared. Roxy appears at Louis’s door dressed in a pink bunny costume to sing him a telegram from one of his many one-night stands about, yes, his cock. The encounter between the two is flat out hilarious. It’s worth reading this book just for that. After meeting her, Louis is determined to have her and not just in his bed although man does he want her there (His thoughts are so steamy, I confess that, when I wasn’t snickering, I was squirming.) Roxy doesn’t trust the rich and she finds Louis’s serious attentions hard to take seriously. Chase Me is lighter than Ms. Bailey’s other books although fans looking for her trademark dirty talking hero won’t be disappointed. I found the ending a bit abrupt and struggled to not reach into the pages and smack Roxy for her silliness there but, other than that, this is a winning read. Grade: B+.


Ten Good Reasons by Lauren Christopher is a book I picked to read because I am overwhelmed by my TBR pile (currently with over 1000 books on it…) so I decided to sort by new and upcoming releases with a four star or more rating on Goodreads. This book is one such romance albeit it has just nine reviews. I haven’t read the author’s debut novel, The Red Bikini, which people rave about on Amazon, but after reading Ten Good Reasons, I might. This story of a withdrawn, grieving boat captain and the bubbly yet not annoying PR professional finds the right balance of light, sexy, and sad. Plus there are whales! Lia is a heroine whose joy in life reads as real rather than painfully perky and it makes sense that Evan slowly lets her show him how to live again. The love scenes are doled out slowly and in a way that supports the emotional relationship the leads cautiously build. (If you’re sick of books where the lovers leap into bed and then grow to care about one another, this is a good choice for you.) There is some hard to hit sweet spot between contemporary romances so sugary they ping my “this is some serious crap” meter and those so dark I find myself longing for a Jill Shalvis novel. This book hits that special place. Grade: B.


I tried yet another New Adult rock star book. Yet again, I didn’t like it. However, in the case of Deep, my dislike doesn’t stem from the rock star adulation or the young adult angst. Nope, I disliked this book for a host of other reasons.

It’s official: The couple that gets pregnant the first time they have sex while using a condom is the laziest plot device currently en vogue. It requires no relationship building because, hey, the lovers are insta-bonded over the baby–who invariably has some cutesie pie name like Bean. Each book in the Stage Dive series has been weaker than the one before it and this one is no exception. There’s endless info about much of nothing here and when the focus is on the leads they’re usually texting, a literary affectation I found annoying.

I also find the child bride thing a bit creepy. Not only is the age/life experience gap too great, the heroine Lizzy hasn’t a life outside her relationships which, given how career obsessed Ben, the rocker baby daddy, is makes her seem vapid.

I can’t think of anything I liked about this book. Even characters I liked in their books were iffy here. I also found the casual violence–all the guys keep beating the shit out of each other for trivial reasons–off putting.

No more Stage Dive or Ms. Scott for me. Grade: C-

 

Maggie’s reads:

Fans of Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series will not be disappointed in Dead Heat, this fourth book of the series. The story starts with a serious conversation. Anna wants children. She knows Charles does as well. But for werewolves, childbirth is a great challenge and they will have to be creative to overcome the many obstacles they face.

In an effort to lighten the mood – and to ensure he gets Anna the best birthday gift possible – Charles plans a rare personal vacation to Arizona. It gives Charles a chance to reunite with an old friend and Anna a chance to purchase a new horse. But trouble is waiting for them in this seemingly idyllic location. A Fae of incredible power and cruelty is hunting the children of this area. And it will not tolerate any interference to its plan. Grade: B+.

Dead Heat kept me glued to my seat and eagerly turning the pages. It has that rare but wonderful combination of action packed adventure, intriguing mystery and wonderful relationship building that a great book should have. I love how Briggs is able to move the story line of the whole series forward while still delivering a tale that stands completely on its own. If you’re looking for a good paranormal read, look no further.


Haunted by Lynn Carthage was difficult for me to grade. On the one hand, after a slow start, I became very invested in the characters and their destiny. On the other hand, there are definite flaws.

Phoebe has done something so awful that her family has felt the need to cross the ocean to England and move into her step-father’s ancestral estate. None of them are quite prepared for what they find. The house is not just large, it’s huge – a mansion complete with artwork and antiques. It’s also creepy. Not just dust and spiderwebs icky but full of odd sounds which local legends attribute to a ghost. Phoebe soon finds out for herself that something far more horrible is in that house. But that monster is not the biggest surprise waiting for her.

Part horror story, part gothic and part teen romance this book examines the life of the average teen and how much impact they have on their family. Phoebe’s adventures as she fights the horror in the house, meets Miles and starts to fall in love and how she makes some startling discoveries about herself made for interesting reading. The big secret however is fairly apparent long before she figures it out. That makes for a slow point as the reader frustratingly waits for the maim character to catch on to what is happening. Once that occurs though the story takes off.

Overall I liked this enough that I plan to read the sequels. Given how many series I’ve recently stalled on or quit that says something quite positive about the book. Grade: B-.


Sara Thomas loves numbers. She is far less fond of people. Her cousin Jaqui is an exception and when Jaqui offers her the opportunity to work on a journal written entirely in cipher, Sara agrees. She’s not sure she can solve it – she’s not an expert code breaker – but she’s willing to give it a go.

She heads to France where the diary is kept and meets an intriguing cast of characters, including the handsome Luc Sabran. Sara knows she is socially awkward, a bad bet for any kind of long term relationship but she soon finds herself wishing she could keep Luc in her life forever. She also finds herself deeply intrigued by the tale of young Mary, whose diary she is deciphering. 

Mary Dundas’ family essentially deserted her for the Jacobite cause. When her brother comes to the home where she is staying,  saying he wants her to join his family she is ecstatic. She feels far less delighted when she figures out he needs her for one of the many clandestine projects for his cause. Before she knows it she is whisked off to Paris, playing a part in a dangerous charade. It is here that she meets a mysterious and dangerous man who proves to be both her protector and savior many times. But can he ever be more, as her heart longs?

While I thoroughly enjoyed the history in A Desperate Fortune and the journey through the world of ciphering we took I found myself doubting all the relationships. I couldn’t understand Mary being kind and helpful to people who had nothing to do with her for years. Her love story fell flat for me because I could never see the hero caring as much for her as he had for his cause. I found Sara’s love story completely unrealistic; Luc was more taking on another child than he was marrying an equal and I found that disturbing. Kearsley does her usually bang up job of telling an interesting story but the romance here won’t be sweeping you off your feet. Grade: B-.

 

Caz’s reads:


Winterblaze (Darkest London #3) by Kristen Callihan

I don’t read Paranormal Romances as a rule, but I’ve made an exception for this fantastic series. When Inspector Winston Lane of Scotland Yard is attacked and almost killed by a werewolf, he becomes aware of a truth that has been long-suppressed – that there are supernatural beings living among human society. During his recovery, he makes another unpleasant discovery – that his wife of fourteen years (Poppy, the eldest of the three Ellis sisters) has been lying to him for the entirety of their relationship. Unfortunately, however, it seems the betrayals they have wrought upon each other don’t end there, and there is worse to come when a powerful demon reveals a long-buried secret that threatens to tear them apart.

The story follows Poppy and Winston as they come to realise that perhaps their marriage had not been everything they had believed it to be, and sees them gradually beginning to readjust to the truths they now know about each other. There are bitter words and recriminations, but ultimately, there is no question these are two people who love each other very deeply and need each other at an instinctual level. I loved seeing them as they re-evaluated each other and their lives, and then watching them work together to win the day.

The balance between the romance and the action is just about perfect, the storytelling is wonderful and the plot is exciting and well-paced. Ms Callihan creates the most incredible sexual tension between her couples, and here, shows us the Lanes’ relationship evolving through a series of flashbacks, which are touching and very effective. It’s a fabulous book and I can’t wait to read the next one. Grade: A.


Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale

I felt emotionally exhausted by the time I’d finished reading this book. There’s no way to do it justice in couple of paragraphs, but there’s no question that in Sheridan Drake, Ms Kinsale has created one of the most complex, compelling heroes – should that be anti-heroes? – I’ve ever read.

A decorated naval officer, widely regarded as one of the nation’s heroes, Sheridan knows he’s a fraud. He’s clever, ruthless and manipulative, but finds himself on the receiving end of similar treatment following his father’s death, when his father’s former mistress – who is companion to Olympia, princess of a small European state – insists Sheridan marries Olympia in order for him to attain the inheritance left him. Olympia already has a serious case of hero-worship, even before she meets Sheridan, and of course he exploits that to the full – but she nonetheless turns him down. A series of misadventures sees the couple running off in secret, captured by convicts, stranded on an island together, and then sold into slavery, and over the course of those events, Olympia comes to see Sheridan at his worst, and his best – and to love him in spite of it all.

I honestly couldn’t put the book down. It’s not an easy read at times, because Sheridan is a difficult character to like. But it gradually becomes clear that he is not really what he seems to be, and that he’s in fact a deeply troubled man who is haunted by so many of those events for which he has been lauded as a hero. My one complaint about the book is that the ending is very abrupt, but it’s still an amazing story. Grade: A.

 

 

Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Maggie AAR, Mini reviews, Reading, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Few of My Favorite Scenes

There’s been a lot in the media lately about women and desire and what it is, exactly, that flips the female switch from watching “The Bachelor” to wanting to do the bachelor (or the husband or the friend with benefits). Recently, in the New York Times, Sheryl Sandburg (the CEO of Facebook) and co-writer Adam Grant posited that men who do their share of household chores have more sex. They coined the term choreplay which does have a nice ring to it. It’s a myth, though, says a well-known and respected study published in the American Sociological Review. That study showed that “husbands and wives in couples with more traditional housework arrangements report higher sexual frequency” which, in layman’s terms means men who vacuum get laid less.  Other sexual scientists believe that many women have responsive sexual desire–what turns them on is to be desired. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that women who read romance have more sex (one study said 74% more).

All of this got me to thinking about what turns me on in romance novels. That in turn made me think about seduction in romance novels. Several scenes immediately came to mind. Here, in no particular order, are a few moves that, were I the heroine, would have swept me off my feet.

Tristan, the hero of Caroline Linden’s Love and Other Scandals, takes heroine Joan on a balloon ride and shows her her world as seen from the sky. He does so because,

But after tea the other day, when she looked so shockingly lovely and he couldn’t think of anything but touching her, Tristan had been determined to do something to please her, as a way of making up for his past failings. Taking her ballooning seemed an excellent choice: something she’d probably never do on her own, but thrilling and exotic. He wanted her to remember this morning for the rest of her life. He knew he would.

Joan adores the outing and why wouldn’t she: It’s an experience a man created specifically for her. That’s something I find very sexy.

In Lisa Kleypas’s Secrets of a Summer Night, Simon, the hero, gives Annabelle, the heroine, a pair of sturdy boots so that she may safely walk in countryside. It’s a lovely gift, one that Annabelle can accept–they arrive at her doorstep without a card–and that she desperately needs but can’t afford to purchase for herself.  So often in romance novels, the hero showers the heroine with expensive gems. Those sorts of offerings don’t do a thing for me, but giving a girl a pair of shoes so she can safely explore the outdoors rocks.

When Caleb Clark makes his first move on Ellen Callahan in Ruthie Knox’s Along Came Trouble he does so by offering to change a burnt-out bulb. This particular bulb is just a little too high for Ellen to change herself, even using the ladder, but Caleb’s a big guy and he can do it safely. Ellen knows that Caleb is deliberately being “charming and helpful” and Caleb knows that she knows. It works for her anyway because it’s a sweet, small, unthreatening step in his campaign to win her very wary heart.

I really do have a thing for handymen. There’s a scene in Sarah Mayberry’s Suddenly You where the hero Harry is patching a hole in the wall for Pippa, a broke single mom living in a dump. After Pippa mistakes a tube of filler in Harry’s jeans for an erection–and asks “Is that for me?”–she is so mortified she locks herself in the bathroom. She tells herself she’s “a million miles from the kind of women that would inspire a hard-on the size of a tube of spackle.” Harry refuses to leave her to her misery and, even though he knows getting involved with her is a bad idea, he kisses her into next week. He’s just so perfect here–he makes Pippa feel like the most desirable woman in the world, despite her faux paux, threadbare yoga pants, and baggy shirt. This scene–which includes pulse racing sex against the wall–is hot as hell. As is Harry.

Ash Turner in Courtney Milan’s Unveiled seduces Margaret Dalrymple by giving her control–it’s something he does for her over and over again in the story. I adore a scene early in the book where Margaret thinks he’ll kiss her. Instead he tells her that as much as he wants to, he wants more that she kiss him. “I want you to choose me,” he said, “well and truly choose me of your own accord.” Ash is one of my favorite of Ms. Milan’s and, in this scene, he completely wins me over.

Michael, the hero of Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked–the raciest of the Bridgerton books–seduces Francesca (for the first time) by talking dirty. He’s wanted her for over a decade and, now that she’s in his arms, he tells her all the things he’s about to do to her. It’s quite a list and turns Francesca (and me) into a puddle of lust.

“There are so many choices,” he said huskily, sliding his hands up her legs another few inches. “I scarcely know where to start.”

He stopped to look at her for a moment. She was breathing hard, her lips parted and plump from his kisses. And she was mesmerized, completely under his spell.

He dipped closer once again, to her other ear, so he could make sure his words fell hot and moist upon her soul. “I think, however, that I would have to start where you need me most. First I’d kiss you…” — he pressed his thumbs into the soft flesh of her inner thighs — “…here.”

He held silent, just for a second, just long enough for her to shiver with desire. “Would you like that?” he murmured, his question intended to torment and tease. “Yes, I can see that you would.

“But that wouldn’t be enough,” he mused, “for either of us. So clearly, I would then have to kiss you here.” His thumbs inched up until they reached the hot crevice between her legs and her torso, and then he pressed gently, so she would know exactly what he was talking about. “I think you would enjoy a kiss right there,” he added, “almost as much” — he slid along the crease, down, down, closer to the very center of her, but not quite all the way — “as I would like to kiss you.”

And while it’s true that Michael’s a gifted wordsmith, it’s the power of his desire for Francesca that makes his sexytalk so damn persuasive. If I were Francesca, I’d definitely want to hear more.

These are just a few of my favorite scenes. I’d love to hear yours. What heroic moves would have you saying yes?

Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Characters, Dabney AAR, Heroes, Relationships | 10 Comments

An interview (and giveaway) with author Stella Riley

Back in 2013 when AAR staffers were asked to choose their top ten romances, one of my choices was A Splendid Defiance by the British author, Stella Riley. It’s a book I read for the first time in the 1980s, and which I’ve never forgotten. More recently, I chose her latest book, The King’s Falcon as one of my favourite books of 2014.

Ms Riley wrote a handful of books back in the 1980s and 1990s, and then just vanished! Her books were not reprinted and second-hand copies were not only hard to find, but very expensive, so when she began to revise and re-publish her back-catalogue digitally a few years ago, I may actually have squealed with delight at the prospect of at last being able to read those of her books I’d not been able to find before.

Following a twenty-year break in her writing career, Ms Riley published a new book – The King’s Falcon – last year, and her latest book – The Player – was published on 6th March 2015, and I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with her and to talk about that and a few other things I’ve been dying to ask for over twenty years!


Caz: Welcome to All About Romance, Stella!

Stella: Thanks, Caz – I’m happy to be here.

Caz: You’ve written books set in two particular historical periods that aren’t commonly seen in historical romances – the English Civil War and Restoration and the Georgian period. What is it that has drawn you to those eras in particular?

Stella: As far as ‘Why Georgian rather than Regency?’ goes – it’s because historical romances in either of these genres are basically just a matter of clothes and manners. The 1770’s were a more robust, less respectable era than the Regency. Duels, abductions, highwaymen … all of these fit better into the mid-Georgian period than they do in the Regency. Also, I love the sheer extravagance of the fashions. All those colourful silks and satins, the lace, the flash of jewels – and that was just the men!   Then again, I have a secret weakness for gentlemen with long hair.

Caz: Hah! I suppose all the make-up, wigs and high heels (again, just the men!) might make it a bit difficult to have them appear suitably masculine and heroic.

Stella: That’s certainly true of the Macaronis with their fans and lavender powdered wigs.  But, thankfully, my guys manage to avoid these particular afflictions … and, at the end of the day, masculinity and so on is mostly to do with what’s inside the clothes.  Or, to put it another way, I’ll bet you wouldn’t mind seeing Sarre without his shirt.

Caz: Um… having read the book, I suspect I’m going to be one in a long line who wouldn’t mind!

Stella: Good to know. And the 17th century? Well, I’ve had an on-going love-affair with that period for as long as I can remember. It’s a complex and hugely important part of English history that isn’t taught in schools nearly as often as it should be – and I don’t understand why. It’s far from boring. In fact, it’s packed with fascinating detail. As a writer, if offers everything I could possibly want in terms of a backdrop. The drama and intrigue of stirring events; gallantry and tragedy; love and loss … and a cast of real-life heroes and villains as varied as any I could ever create.

But there’s a price. The Roundheads & Cavaliers series is historical fiction as opposed to historical romance. Using the history to the best advantage without letting it swamp the book can be difficult; and it’s important to make the historical detail as accurate as possible. I want my readers to know they can trust me to get it right – and that means extensive research. Time-consuming and labour-intensive but enjoyable in its own way.

Caz: Oddly enough, both your newer books are third in their respective series; The King’s Falcon follows The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw; and The Player follows The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance. Tell us a little about the world of The Player and how it relates to the previous books.

Stella: The idea for The Player came about when I was preparing the e-version of The Mésalliance. I started to realise that I wanted to work with that cast of characters again – particularly Rockliffe, who is a great favourite of mine. I also had an idea for a story about a young man who had been driven abroad by scandal and spent a decade living on his wits. I wanted to know who this man had become; how his experiences had changed him; and how he’d cope with a return to his former life, despite the stain still clinging to his name. And because I always like to give myself a challenge, I created The Player. Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre … recently known to Paris as the actor, L’Inconnu – a fact of which he’d naturally like London society to remain unaware. Unfortunately, he’s fairly sure that the Duke of Rockliffe already knows. This is no surprise. Readers of The Mésalliance will recall that Rock always knows everything. The only question is – what will he do with his knowledge?

Caz: I’m sure this is a question you’ve been asked before, but what – if anything – is different about your writing process now to your approach back in the 80s and 90s?

Stella: The main difference is that I’m enjoying myself. I’ve re-discovered the pleasure of creating what, in essence, is a massive jigsaw puzzle; one where you can’t resist going back to put in just one more piece. I’ve also stopped being quite so fussy about the first draft. Years ago, if a sentence or paragraph didn’t ‘balance’, I’d spend ages picking at it until it did. Now I follow the golden rule. Don’t get it right – get it written. You can put it right later.

Caz: This is probably another question you’re sick of being asked, but I’m going to do it anyway – why the long break?

Stella: By the time I stopped writing – a few months after the publication of Garland of Straw – the whole thing had become a chore. All the joy had gone out of it and sitting down to work every day felt like pushing rocks uphill. I wasn’t happy with my publisher – but I had a four book contract of which I’d only delivered the first two. Something had to give. Either I pressed on and ended up climbing the walls or I bought myself out of my contract. I chose the latter and, as you can appreciate, going back after that – certainly in the conventional way – wasn’t an option.

Caz: What made you decide to revise your older titles rather than just republish them?   The advent of digital publishing has led to an explosion in the republication of authors’ back-lists, but I think it’s fairly true to say that the majority of those books are published “as is”. You decided not to do that, however.

Stella: Originally, I didn’t think beyond republishing my back-list and the first title I chose to produce was the first one I ever had published – The Marigold Chain. With hindsight, I think this was the book I thought I ought to write, rather than the book I wanted to write. At any rate, when I started looking at it from the perspective of re-release, it became clear that the ‘voice’ wasn’t wholly my own and that it needed work. It probably still isn’t my best work but I believe the digital version is a distinct improvement on the original.

For the rest, I made virtually no changes to The Parfit Knight but spent a long time restoring The Mésalliance to the book it would have been had not the publisher insisted on massive cuts. And, on a general note, I felt that styles and tastes had changed during my long break from writing … that readers expect more these days. Since I had the opportunity to up-date my books a little, it seemed sensible to do it. Also, I think that inserting those new sequences helped me to see that I hadn’t forgotten how to write from scratch.

Caz: So following all that work on your older books, you then returned to what I believe was planned as a quartet of books set during the English Civil War. Was the idea of writing something completely new after your long break a daunting one? Or was it like you’d never stopped writing?

Stella: The most daunting thing about producing my first new title in over twenty years was the possibility that readers might be disappointed. When my backlist started gathering pace on Amazon, something remarkable and totally unexpected happened. I found out that readers not only remembered me (which was amazing enough) but they remembered me with affection. I’d started something purely for my own pleasure and amusement, only to discover that it was turning into something more. Exciting – but also rather scary.

I had a head-start with The King’s Falcon in that the first section of the book – the part covering the Worcester campaign – had been lying in a drawer gathering dust. This was helpful. What wasn’t was the fact that the rest of the original story-line was completely useless. In short, plot-wise it was necessary to re-think the whole thing. Fortunately, the words flowed and characters started to take charge of their own destiny … and, truthfully, writing Falcon was an absolute pleasure.

Caz: Well, that’s excellent news – as it means we will see more from you! So what are you working on now? It seemed to me that there are some characters in The Player that we might meet again soon…

Stella: I’m finally starting work on book four of my Roundheads & Cavaliers series which is the long-awaited – and frequently requested - story of Eden Maxwell.  As for characters from The Player and further books in the Rockliffe series … well, maybe.  I’ll admit taking quite a fancy to Nicholas Wynstanton.  But that’s for another day. Eden comes first.

Caz: That’s good to know. Readers familiar with Eden’s story so far will no doubt agree with me that the guy deserves a break! Stella, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Best of luck with The Player, and even though it’s somewhat belated – welcome back!

Ms. Riley is giving an eCopy of the two previous books in the series –The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance – as a “set” to one lucky reader. To be entered in this giveaway, make a comment below.

Posted in Authors, Caz AAR, Interviews | Tagged | 51 Comments