a Pandora’s Box: Karina Bliss’s Rise

Acclaimed literary biographer Elizabeth Winston writes about long-dead heroes. So bad-boy rock icon Zander Freedman couldn’t possibly tempt her to write his memoir. Except the man is a mass of fascinating contradictions–manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic and morally ambiguous. In short, everything she seeks in a biography subject. When in her life will she get another chance to work with a living legend? But saying yes to one temptation soon leads to another. Suddenly she’s having heated fantasies about her subject, fantasies this blue-eyed devil is only too willing to stoke. She thought self-control was in her DNA; after all, she grew up a minister’s daughter. She thought wrong. 

Rock star Zander Freedman has been an outlier–many would say an outcast–for most of his life. But there’s no disaster he can’t overcome, from the breakup of his band to the inevitable damage to his reputation. His Resurrection Tour is shaping up to be his greatest triumph–if his golden voice holds out. Contracting a respected biographer is simply about creating more buzz. Elizabeth’s integrity is the key to consolidating his legacy as one of rock’s greats. All the damn woman has to do is write down what he tells her. Not force him to think. Or encourage the good guy struggling to get out. And certainly not make him fall in love for the first time in his life. Turns out he is scared of something: being known. 

(from the book’s Amazon page)


Dabney: I, like many, were excited to see a new book by Karina Bliss. And, is it just me or are there a lot of kick ass romance writers in New Zealand? Bliss, Nalini Sing, Jackie Ashenden… Anyway, I love Bliss’s What the Librarian Did–it’s about the brother of the hero of this book–and looked forward to reading Rise. I liked Rise but I didn’t love it.

LinnieGayl: To say I was excited to learn that Rise was available for download would be an understatement. What the Librarian Did is one of my favorite, most memorable romance reads of the past five years. I couldn’t imagine how she would turn Zander into a hero, but she did. I not only liked Rise, I definitely loved it.

Dabney: I too really like What the Librarian Did, more than I like Rise. I think I am inherently less interested in rock star heroes now. That may be part of why this book didn’t rock my world.

LinnieGayl: it’s funny, because until a few months ago I would’ve said I would never read a romance about a rock star. What could possibly be romantic about that? And now two New Zealand authors have sucked me into to believing in a romance with a rock star. The first was Nalini Singh’s Rock Addiction, featuring a very sweet younger rock star. In contrast, there’s absolutely nothing sweet about Zander. He’s led a hard life, done all kinds of bad things – including those he did to his brother in What the Librarian Did. But despite his past, I fell for Zander in Rise, and came to believe in his romance with Elizabeth. And speaking of Elizabeth, what did you think of her character?

Dabney: Sigh. I really wanted to like her more than I did. I appreciated that she is smart and determined to be in control of her life. But the way she felt about Zander was, for much of the book, almost, well, trite. Over and over again she was bowled over by his physical beauty. I kept thinking that a hero who saw the heroine this way would annoy me.

LinnieGayl: Okay, finally back after a long pause in which I actually reread huge parts of the book to re-check my feelings about Elizabeth, and they haven’t changed. I still like her. You’re definitely right that she repeatedly thinks about how beautiful he is, and those feelings never go away. But she’s also very smart about it and initially wants to avoid falling for him just for his appearance. When she finally gets involved with him sexually, she’s still learning about his personality, and definitely wants to keep it physical. I think for me, she sees him initially as a gorgeous, seriously flawed man, and gradually comes to appreciate so much more. And of course there’s the fact that they did have the online conversations about her books before she ever knew who he was; so she knows he’s also smart.

Dabney: I do love the whole band concept–it’s better than the brothers concept because with a band, the guys can come from any background, race, religion, class, etc… So, I’d have to say–because I do enjoy Ms. Bliss’s work–I’m up for all the guys to each get his own story. I always love reunited couple love stories and that looks as though that will be Jared and Kayla. I’m totally up for that.

LinnieGayl: I agree about Jared and Kayla; I think there’s will make a great story, and the same goes with most of the guys in the band. I’m also very interested in seeing more of several of the women in the book, most notably Zander’s assistant Dimity, and his executive housekeeper Philippa.

Dabney: The book was a fun read for me, just not a great one. I did enjoy the humor, something at which Ms. Bliss excels.

LinnieGayl: Ms. Bliss does excel at humor. And for me, it’s definitely a great read, and a completely unexpected DIK. Ms. Bliss managed to turn a hero I thought I would hate into someone I really enjoyed. I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Dabney: I’d give it a B with the caveat that if you like rock star romances, I’ll bet you’ll love this book.

LinnieGayl: It’s a definite A- from me. I think you’ll like it even if you don’t like rock star romances.

Readers, have you read it? And, tell us what other rock star romances you love.


Rise is available at Amazon (click here) and other sellers.

Posted in Dabney AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Pandora's Box | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Poll Results Page… in case you missed it!

Best 2014 Romance Novels
Best Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Best Contemporary Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James

Best Romantic Suspense

River Road, Jayne Ann Krentz

Best Paranormal Romance Shield of Winter, Nalini Singh
Best Romantic Science Fiction The Kraken King, Meljean Brook
Best Romantic Fantasy Fiction The Winter King, C.L. Wilson
Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K.Honorable Mentions Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy, Joanna Bourne
Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James
The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan
Best Historical Romance Not Set in the U.K. My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Funniest Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Biggest Tearjerker My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance) TIEHonorable Mention Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran
It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Rock Addiction, Nalini Singh
Best Category Romance Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect , Jessica Hart
Best Erotica/Romantica Having Her, Jackie Ashenden
Best Romance Short Story A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, Cecilia Grant
Best LGBT Romance Think of England, K.J. Charles
Best Debut Author Sonali Dev
Best Young AdultHonorable Mention Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie PerkinsThe Perilous Sea, Sherry Thomas
Best New Adult The Hook Up, Kristen Callihan
Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements A Grave Matter, Anna Lee Huber
Best 2014 Characters
Best Romance HeroHonorable Mention Duncan West in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLeanThorn Dautry in Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James

Best Romance Heroine

 

Honorable Mention

Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgiana Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Most Tortured HeroHonorable Mention Alastair de Grey in Fool Me Twice, by Meredith DuranFlavian Arnott in Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Most Kickass HeroineHonorable Mentions Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgina (Chase) Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Kate Daniels in Magic Breaks, Ilona Andrews
Catherine Blade in My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Romance Couple Sidney and Vaughn in It Happened One Wedding, Julie James

 

Posted in Annual Reader Poll, Best of List, Polls | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Annual Poll Results for Books Published in 2014 are in!

Yes, the results of the Reader Poll for Best Romances of 2014 are in. Click here to see the list of winners and go to the accompanying article to see author comments.

The Annual Poll at AAR is a cooperative endeavor between readers and staff, and this year’s poll is no exception. Largely based on reader comments, we tinkered with the categories for this year’s poll. We separated two former categories into three: Science Fiction, Paranormal and Fantasy. We dropped the Best Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction category and added Best LGBT Romance. We’re happy with the results for all of these new categories, and you’ll see them again in next year’s poll.

This year’s poll had 24 different categories. On average, readers voted in 12 categories, but 5 percent of you voted in 20 or more of the categories. The most popular category was Best Romance Novel, with 90% of you submitting a title. But over three-quarters of you also voted for Favorite Hero and Favorite Romance Couple.

We frequently receive comments – either in the forums, the blog posts, or in the actual poll – that readers do not like the “Best Kick-Ass Heroine” category, suggesting it should be dropped. This year over 70 percent of readers cast a vote in this category, suggesting that while some dislike the category (or the label), many readers know exactly what the category means, and have a ready choice for a winner.

At this point in our polling history we can safely say we have created enough categories to cover the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy genre. In previous years there were many overlapping titles when we just had two categories but this year, with three categories opened, there was little if any overlap. Approximately 65% of readers cast a vote in at least one of the three categories, while 19 percent of readers voted in all three categories. We did receive a few comments about Steampunk romances, expressing either uncertainty about which category the book fits into, or asking for a separate Steampunk category. We’ll try to clarify the situation next year.

Two of the new categories last year – Best Young Adult Romance and Best New Adult Romance – each received a vote on approximately 30 percent of your ballots this year.

We appreciate your thoughts on the poll, and included a place for you to list your comments along with your ballot. Many of you simply thanked us for running the poll, or expressed your enthusiasm for the process; we love the poll as well and appreciate your comments.

Some readers suggested changes to the poll, or the polling process, and we would appreciate your thoughts. One reader suggested,

“For the Best Historical Romance set in the U.K., could you break this into two categories: Best Regency Romance and Best Romance set outside the Regency time period?”

Several other readers noted that they miss the Best American Historical/Frontier category and asked if we would bring it back. The category was dropped several years ago both in an effort to streamline the poll, and to eliminate categories that generated relatively few votes. Is it time to reconsider this category?

We were delighted to see many first-time voters submit a ballot this year. But after polling at AAR for over 10 years, we’ve also come to recognize, and appreciate, the efforts many longtime AAR readers make in entering the various polls at AAR. Nearly 20 percent of the voters noted that they have voted in AAR’s annual Reader Poll for five or more years. Thank you!

As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the poll. Look for another poll next year at about the same time.

Cindy, LeeB, and LinnieGayl

 

 

Posted in All About Romance, Annual Reader Poll, Best of List, Cindy AAR, Lee AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Polls | 15 Comments

Two New Categories Are Open in our Special Titles Listings

Now that we’ve revised the more popular Special Titles Listings, we are left with a number of the smaller categories that appear to be less in demand, but still interesting to some. So as we open them for new submissions, we considered these lists among ourselves, wondering what is attractive and what is less attractive about them.

For the Love of God is a list that suffers from the fact that titles which fit here are not so easy to spot. Many of the romances featuring characters for whom religion plays a major role are firmly anchored in the inspirational arena. They tend to center on the Christian faith and the main protagonists’ relationship with God, and actually this relationship is of equal importance as the actual romance. In many of these romances great emphasis is placed on a character being “saved” by his or her renewed faith. This is all well and good, but to find these titles any reader just needs to peruse the catalogues of publishing houses specialised on inspirationals.

On the other hand, romances which feature heroes and heroines for whom their faith is important, but not to such a marked degree, are scarce. Pickings are equally slim when looking for protagonists who practice Judaism, Hinduism, Islam or other faiths, depticted in a realistic manner – not in the manner of the typical Sheikh Harlequin Presents! There are also hardly any romances that deal realistically with the issue of inter-faith romances, and the difficulties that may arise with such a union.

In the contrary, most mainstream romances are agnostic in their approach: Religion is hardly ever mentioned, and if people go to church at all in the story it’s worth a single sentence. While this avoidance of religion works in contemporaries, it can add to the wallpaper-y character of many historicals, as religion played a huge role in almost everybody’s lives right down to the 1960s, and it’s appropriate to see this reflected in novels set in earlier periods.

So what we’re asking you to nominate for this list are romances that are not inspirationals, but still feature protagonists who work in the field of religion – of any faith – and/or for whose life religion – again, any faith – plays an important role. If you can, please indicate who the religious character is and what role religion plays in his or her life.

The Scots & Irish Romances list is one that smacks of a holiday: Escape to the Emerald Isle, or the Highlands, and enjoy whisky, tartans, and quaint pubs with live music. What’s not to love here? But fewer romances of this sort have been published recently than in the past, and we can only speculate why. Possibly the traditionalistic approach to both nations is no longer in tune with the modern societies these countries are in reality? Possibly fewer authors want to tackle the brogue? Possibly with the greater generational distance of many US readers from their immigrant ancestors, there is felt to be less interest in these countries? No matter why, we still love romances set in Scotland and Ireland, and hope that with Outlander on TV last summer, there may even be an increased interest in these particular settings.

If you nominate titles for this list, we’d like to ask you to indicate whether a romance is Scots or Irish – we want to point this out with the little icons that you can see in the list.

This is the last time around we are only opening lists we haven’t revised so far. Starting next month, we plan to mix some of the remaining lists with lists that we started our work with three years back, and for which you submitted so many books then. And once more, thanks so much to our readers, without whom this work would not be possible. We are looking forward to your submissions! You will find the criteria and submission ballot here. The lists will remain open until Thursday, March 5, midnight.

Rike Horstmann, LinnieGayl Kimmel and Cindy Smith

Posted in Cindy AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Rike AAR, Special Titles Lists | Leave a comment

TBR Challenge: You’ve Just Got to Read This

throughtheevildaysFirst things first – since a couple of people emailed me to ask about it, I figured I’d go on and post my confession. Why yes, I did indeed screw up and forget to post my TBR post last month. In my defense, TBR day was the day before I had to go out of town to take my child to the hospital for a major medical procedure so I may have been a tad distracted. However, I’m back on track now and since I’ve been dying to read the book I chose for this month’s TBR challenge, luckily it actually fit the theme of books recommended by others.

I honestly don’t remember who was the first to recommend Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne series to me. I know Rachel Potter and Jean Wan here at AAR have raved about these books, as have posters on our message boards and various other bloggers I read. And I have to say that I agree with them. These books are fabulous. Spencer-Fleming gives readers good mysteries, but more importantly, her characters are intelligently written and over the course of the 8(so far) books in the series, she takes readers through a complex relationship arc. The history between Episcopal priest Clare and police chief Russ requires both characters and readers to wrestle with some tough questions, but the more I get to know these characters, the more I care about them even if some of the dilemmas they wrestle with make me uncomfortable on occasion. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Reading | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Fifty Shades the Movie: Blythe’s Take

Fifty_Shades_of_Grey_1Okay, everyone and their dog has weighed in on this one, whether it’s because they saw it, didn’t see it and didn’t think anyone should see it either, or are waiting until it comes out on DVD so they can save their hard earned money. I for one, was looking forward to this for weeks. Maybe months. I knew precisely how I wanted to see it: In a theater full of women, with my girlfriends. A theater where you could drink. That’s precisely what I did, and it was awesome.

Most of us have have HDTV and we’re all busy with work, school, kids, and life. I genuinely like going to the movies for its own sake and always have. However, I go much less frequently than I used to. But with something like Fifty Shades, there are compelling reasons to experience a movie socially. There are ways it can add to your experience and make it unforgettable. I will never forget watching Crimson Tide in a dollar theater in New Orleans with everyone shouting at the screen. Or seeing Disturbia on an opening Friday in a theater full of teenagers. It all becomes part of the experience. For me this meant hooking up with Mel, Jackie, and two peartinis, merlots, and chardonnays respectively (peartinis for me). We actually had horrid seats right in the front behind a group of women who had clearly pre-gamed; they were way drunker than we were. I can assure you that this only added to the experience, which is what we told them afterwards when they apologized.

In my opinion, this movie should be interspersed with frequent giggling and probably some catcalling. Random people shouting “Yikes!” and “What?!?” are also helpful. For some reason I can’t really explain, Mel and I giggled uncontrollably every time they shot the front of Christian’s building, which said “Grey House”. We just found it funny. I get that some people take this seriously, and I don’t have a problem with that. For me it works best as farce, and I very much enjoyed it on that level. All three of us had read the book; Mel and Jackie read all three, and I made it through two. So we knew what we were getting into.

As for the nuances of the movie itself, I can talk with some authority on that, too. First off, I was surprisingly impressed with the cinematography. It’s well shot, and it’s pretty to look at. My personal feeling is that it elevated the original material (which I suppose is my way of saying it was better than the book, which I personally find to be terribly written). Visually, you get a compelling picture of what seduction and desire look like. Close up shots of lips, eyes. Things you focus on and notice. That worked well. The movie also neatly side-stepped my person pet peeve about the book – Ana’s lack of email address. In the movie her computer in on the fritz, so she doesn’t have to act all wide-eyed like she’s never seen one before. And not only was the “Laters, Baby” was kept to a minimum, we also didn’t have to hear Ana’s irritating inner monologue about her inner goddess with the “Holy Crap” this and the “Holy Shit” that. I also liked that Ana looked about like you’d picture her – like a somewhat uncertain college student who hadn’t fine-tuned her fashion sense. She looks twenty-two, and she has a great body that doesn’t seem to glorify an impossibly thin ideal.

Christian is pretty easy on the eyes himself, and I could buy him much of the time. But every time he said the really hardcore stuff? Giggles. Uncontrollable giggles. “I don’t make make love. I fuck…hard.” Yeah, right. I am pretty sure it’s the former. I don’t know how he said it without laughing himself.

At the end of the day, if you’re a fan of the book I think you should see it. If you want a fun social experience, go see it, and bring your friends (other women. This is a girl thing. Thanks, Mel and Jackie). I think peartinis and chardonnay also enhance the experience, but your mileage may vary. If you have seen it, what did you think? And what were you hoping for? If you haven’t seen it, can you think of other movies you watched in a complimentary social setting? I’d love to hear about that too.

Laters, Baby.

Posted in AAR Blythe, Movies | 16 Comments

Four Special Titles Listings revised

When we collect nominations for the Special Titles Listings, usually we greet the individual submissions with an affectionate moan: We love the new titles, but we grumble a bit at the work of looking up the books online, preparing the new entries, possibly even browsing through them to make sure they fit the category.

This time around, there was a change: Because we opened the lists just before Christmas (we might have known …), there were very few submissions at first. We panicked a bit, and went off to nominate some books ourselves.

In my (Rike’s) case, this meant literally walking up and down my bookshelves, browsing through the titles and desperately trying to remember where there was a full-figured heroine, or a guardian who fell for this ward.

After I’d stopped panicking it was actually a rewarding exercise. I opened some books I hadn’t had a closer look at in years, and rediscovered some oldies. In addition, I impulsively bought some Harlequins at their Christmas sale just because it looked like they fit one of the categories, and read them over the New Year. And won’t you believe it, with Cat Schield and Sarah Mallory (whose latest books, incidentally, fit our categories just perfectly!) I discovered two new-to-me authors whose backlists I am definitely going to pick up. In case you want to know the details: Cat Schield’s Because of the Baby is a lovely romance between two in-laws, taking care of a baby niece while their siblings, the baby’s parents are absent or incapacitated. And Sarah Mallory’s Never Trust a Rebel is a charming Georgian historical set in the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion and featuring a guardian and his ward. I recommend both!

Then there was the irony of working on the Plus-Sized Heroine list during one of the most indulgent, delectable, edible times of the year. Which is then quickly followed by resolutions of strict diets and maniacal exercise regimes. As much as the idea of loving our curves has been making it’s way into the odd ad campaign we have to admit it would be nice to see it expand in all media, including romance books. Thankfully there are authors out there writing stories about women who struggle with their physical bodies and those women who love themselves as they are and although the additions to the list are few, we hope they will satisfy.

And then the holidays were over, and you, our readers, came through. The Guardian/Ward nominations remain few as well, but you pointed out a great number of books to us that fit the All in the Family and the Twins categories, and sometimes both. Thanks for the wonderful sumissions!

We hope you will enjoy the newly revised lists, and pick up some fabulous new titles for your reading. And watch this space on Friday for some new lists to be opened!

 

- Rike Horstmann, LinnieGayl Kimmel and Cindy Smith

Posted in Cindy AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Rike AAR, Special Titles Lists | 5 Comments

Our Favorite Romantic Films

2015-02-013There’s an obscure little film called Fifty Shades of Grey out for Valentine’s Day–today!– this year. Maybe you’ve already bought your tickets. Maybe you’re waiting to see it on Netflix. Maybe you’re waiting until hell freezes over. While we do have some staffers who are planning to see it and write a review, in the meantime, here are some favorite romantic films AAR staffers have already seen and can enthusiastically suggest for a romantic night in.

Caroline: I think nothing sets the mood like laughing together, so I pick Bridget Jones’s Diary. This movie has great one-liners, a fantastic cast (someone finally let Hugh Grant have some fun!) and a really lovely core relationship in which Mark Darcy falls in love with Bridget – just as she is.

(Side note: I floated this question to my husband, who promptly nominated Happy Gilmore. I said, “Why am I even married to you?” Then he said, “Oh, wait, can I suggest a miniseries? Because that latest Jane Eyre (Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) was awesome.” Ah, that’s why.)

LinnieGayl: I’m going with a pair of movies: Beauty and the Beast (Disney version) and La Belle et la Bête (1946) (Cocteau). I saw the Cocteau version years ago in a college French lit class and it made a huge impression. I didn’t think I’d like the Disney version, but when my niece was little she could convince me to watch anything, and I fell in love all over again, so much so that it became a family Christmas Eve tradition. What’s particularly romantic about both versions for me is that our heroine manages to see through the ugly façade of the Beast and fall deeply in love with his inner beauty.

Anne: Dang! Somebody beat me to La Belle et la Bête! :) I even have the two-disc edition of the French version with the commentary. Although some of the commentary takes the fun out of the movie, especially when they criticize the heroine’s acting. The behind-the-scenes stuff is great, though. Did you realize it was almost impossible to find clean white sheets in postwar France?

Haley: I think my favorite romance movie (although it’s actually a mini series) is North and South by the BBC. There is just nothing that compares to the gorgeous Richard Armitage being madly in love with his lady. I have seen it so many times.

My favorite Rom-Com is the French film I Do (Prête-moi ta main) because it is really silly and yet heartwarming at the same time. It has some really zany moments that make me laugh and I was totally rooting for the couple the whole time.

I also second the vote for the first Bridget Jones’s Diary because what is there not to love about Colin Firth and Hugh Grant tussling in the street?

Mary: North and South is also in my top 10 romantic movies of all time. I absolutely love this movie and have watched it at least 10 times. Sometimes, I just put in the DVD and fast forward to all of the best parts. One of the best romances was Firelight with Sophie Marceau and Stephan Dillane. Then there are the two most recent adaptations of Jane Eyre and the series and movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. The girls in my family get together periodically to watch romantic movies, and last year we watched The Outsider (based on Penelope Williamson’s novel) with Naomi Watts. The only problem with romance movies is there are not nearly as many of them as romance books

Lee: I’m going to go with While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. She falls in love with Peter Gallagher, who doesn’t really know who the heck she is but then he is injured and she rescue him and he falls into a coma. There are so many fun scenes with Sandra Bullock’s boss and her landlord’s son as well as lovely family scenes with Bill Pullman’s family. My favorite scene is when he gives her a snow globe of the city of Florence.

Heather: My favorite romantic movie is Dirty Dancing. I distinctly remember seeing it in the theater and having the sudden realization that boys were not “yucky,” not at all. It’s infinitely quotable, but my favorite line comes from Baby: “And most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.

Bessie: I always remember And Now My Love  (Toute Une Vie) from 1974. It ends with the couple’s meeting– the story arc of the film is how both their pasts going back two generations brought them together.

Maggie: I’ve done a few blogs on favorite movies, notably one about buried treasure romance films and another on favorite teen romance films. Sadly, the only new film I’ve added to my lexicon of beloved romance movies since then is About Time. This sweet movie is about geeky Tim who is “too thin, too tall, too orange”. When he becomes a barrister in London, a night out with a friend has him meeting Mary, an ordinary girl who seems extraordinary to him. When a time travel glitch tears them apart Tim expends all efforts in getting her back and creating an extraordinary, ordinary life with her.

Jenna: I don’t think I can pick just one for my all-time favorite romantic movie. If I did, it would probably be one of the Austen’s – either Pride and Prejudice (either Kiera Knightly or Jennifer Ehle version) or Sense and Sensibility, so I won’t go with the obvious. I will say that my favorite swoon-worthy romantic movie may have to be Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Who doesn’t just want to melt when Hawkeye tells Cora “Stay alive! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.“? It’s like an historical romance novel come to the screen. My favorite doomed romance has to be Shakespeare In Love with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. My heart just broke at the end when they had to part forever. And my all time favorite sweet romance has to be Disney’s Tangled. I don’t care if he is animated, I just fell in love with Flynn Ryder!

I think my favorite epic romance might be Baz Luhrmann’s Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. I thought this was one of the most underrated movies – it didn’t get great press nor do very well at the box office, I believe. But the chemistry between Nicole and Hugh was white hot. Also, the story is absolutely one of enemies to lovers, which I always love when done well. All of it set in a time period and location that should be used in romances more often – Northern Australia at the beginning of World War II. It truly is an epic story, spanning several years. I cried more than once and – SPOILER ALERT – the moment when the Drover realizes that Sarah is still alive….swoon!!

Caz: I’ve never really noticed this before, but my film-watching tastes are rather different from my reading ones, as I’m not a great fan of romantic movies. Perhaps it’s because the ones I’ve seen have been disappointing – I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I suppose it at least didn’t mean that I had hundreds of favourites to choose from for this post; in fact I’ve got just two from the last few decades. I agree that While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman is wonderfully romantic without being sappy, and both leads were perfect in their roles. I also loved the warm and slightly crazy family dynamic that is everything Lucy never had and something she longs for as much as she longs for someone to love her.

My other favourite is When Harry Met Sally. Friends-to-lovers is a trope I generally like in books, and this one is the queen of the crop. Smart and Funny is my catnip, and this has both in spades.

Other than that, I go back several decades to the great movie couples of the 30s and 40s – perhaps not romances, but definitely romantic, I can watch The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, His Girl Friday, Bringing up Baby and others of their ilk until the cows come home.

Blythe: I feel like my favorite romantic movies have shifted as I have gotten older and my life has changed. There are always oldies but goodies – I mean, I NEVER get tired of the A&E Pride and Prejudice, which I think was total perfection. But of the last decade, my favorite has to be The Holiday. Granted, the Jude Law factor is huge for me. But I also like that they are adults who have had relationships before, and I find myself relating to Cameron Diaz. Now, if I could also relate to her gorgeous Los Angeles home and ability to pack up on a whim and go to a cottage in Surrey for Christmas, that would be kind of nice.

Dabney: That’s a challenge… there are so many good choices. (Love stories are my favorite kind of film.) My current favorite is probably Notting Hill, which was the second big hit from Richard Curtis. (The first was Four Weddings and a Funeral which I would love a lot more if it were Three Weddings and a Funeral and the Hugh Grant character had ended up with the lovely if “Duck Faced” Henrietta. I also love About Time and most but not all of Love Actually, also from Mr. Curtis.) My favorite romantic tear jerker is The Way We Were which my husband can’t make it through without bawling alongside me. My favorite romantic comedy is Bull Durham which is also my favorite sports comedy. No one unsnaps a garter like Kevin Costner. (Second place: Moonstruck, the only film I ever found Nic Cage attractive in.) My favorite teen romance is Say Anything, the film that made John Cusack a star and began Cameron Crowe’s illustrious directing career. Lastly, my favorite oldie but goldie is The Sound of Music.

Melanie: I’m not much for romance movies, honestly – I’m more an action girl. If I had to pick some of my favorites though, I’d have to start with The Princess Bride – how can you not? It’s got the epic love story, the action and the comedy, and just enough cheese to make it delicious. I absolutely adore The African Queen – it’s kinda a romance, right? Katherine Hepburn wins every time, and I loved Bogart in his role. I also second the vote for the 1993 Much Ado About Nothing (though I did enjoy the more recent Joss Whedon adaptation). The couples had such great chemistry, and nothing beats Kenneth Branagh chewing the Shakespearean scenery.

Meanwhile, a friend is trying to convince me that Kate and Leopold wins for best romantic comedy. My vote is torn between French Kiss (the only Meg Ryan movie I really love. I think it’s because of Kevin Kline) and The Proposal (Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds? Yes please! also, I love the age difference, and how it’s not actually a big part of the story line. It’s just an accepted thing. That seems kinda rare when the woman is older than the man.)

For the epic feel, though, I will always watch and rewatch and cry at Last of the Mohicans. The sweeping majesty of the scenery and the score don’t hurt! :)

Lynn: I think Sense and Sensibility is probably my favorite romantic film. It’s hard to pick just one movie, but this is one of the few that completely swept me away on first viewing. That moment when Colonel Brandon sees Marianne for the first time…you can almost feel the longing come off the screen.

What do you all think? Are your top choices on here, or are there great romantic movies we missed? Given a choice, would you prefer a night in with an old favorite or a night out seeing something new?

Caroline AAR

Posted in All About Romance, Caroline AAR, Movies, Romance | Tagged | 29 Comments

It’s the results of the AAR Annual Reader Poll!

Best 2014 Romance Novels
Best Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Best Contemporary Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James

Best Romantic Suspense

River Road, Jayne Ann Krentz

Best Paranormal Romance Shield of Winter, Nalini Singh
Best Romantic Science Fiction The Kraken King, Meljean Brook
Best Romantic Fantasy Fiction The Winter King, C.L. Wilson
Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K.Honorable Mentions Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy, Joanna Bourne
Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James
The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan
Best Historical Romance Not Set in the U.K. My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Funniest Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Biggest Tearjerker My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance) TIEHonorable Mention Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran
It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Rock Addiction, Nalini Singh
Best Category Romance Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect , Jessica Hart
Best Erotica/Romantica Having Her, Jackie Ashenden
Best Romance Short Story A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, Cecilia Grant
Best LGBT Romance Think of England, K.J. Charles
Best Debut Author Sonali Dev
Best Young AdultHonorable Mention Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie PerkinsThe Perilous Sea, Sherry Thomas
Best New Adult The Hook Up, Kristen Callihan
Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements A Grave Matter, Anna Lee Huber
Best 2014 Characters
Best Romance HeroHonorable Mention Duncan West in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLeanThorn Dautry in Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James

Best Romance Heroine

 

Honorable Mention

Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgiana Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Most Tortured HeroHonorable Mention Alastair de Grey in Fool Me Twice, by Meredith DuranFlavian Arnott in Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Most Kickass HeroineHonorable Mentions Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgina (Chase) Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Kate Daniels in Magic Breaks, Ilona Andrews
Catherine Blade in My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Romance Couple Sidney and Vaughn in It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
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Dreamboat or Douchebag: The Christian Grey Edition

I read my first Harlequin Presents when I was in sixth grade. It was Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe and for the decades since I have remembered the line “With a woman like you there can be no other way.” This was said by the hero moments before he forced himself on the heroine. Because he was an Argentinian cattle baron, in my head the line was delivered in a sexy, sensual Spanish accent.

I mention that experience because when I picked up Fifty Shades of Grey a few months ago I felt very much like I was reliving that first encounter with Harlequin.  It seemed very Old Skool 1980’s bodice ripper. Christian Grey had all the core characteristics of the alpha hero of the time which is described in Beyond Heaving Bosoms as:

These heroes aren’t just determined, assertive, and confident—they’re hard, arrogant, and harsh and the heroine is often afraid of him. He’s a punisher as well as lover and protector, but he hurts her only because he loves her so much. Baby. Punitive kisses were dealt with abandon, and the heroine, after stiffening up and resisting, would eventually soften into his kiss—after all, who wouldn’t love having their lips mashed hard enough to leave bruises? And speaking of bruises: grabbing the heroine by the arms so hard they leave marks was another earmark of Old Skool heroes.

These things are all true of Christian. He’s assertive and confident (who wouldn’t be with that kind of success before age 30), a dominant who believes he should be allowed to punish his lover (submissive). He certainly has a lover who fears him; Anastasia often chirps about how she is afraid of him. Especially since he likes to spank her – and would be totally into other forms of punishment if she was willing.

The above definition, along with being rather simplistic (and therefore succinct which is why I chose it) missed out on listing the attractive parts of this Old Skool hero. They are almost invariably super wealthy and powerful. Some at this point might say money doesn’t matter but what else explains the endless use of millionaire, billionaire and duke in titles? Maybe in real life it doesn’t matter but I think I can say with confidence it clearly matters to quite a few when it comes to fantasy.  Back to the positives of the Old Skool hero: They are handsome, either in the traditional sense like Christian, or in a unique, chiseled, masculine vigor sort of way. They’re charismatic – the heroine and tons of other people are drawn to them.  They might demand total control but inevitably it’s because they want to take care of you. Christian is always concerned for Anastasia’s health since she is too stupid to often forgets to eat and drinks a lot and is pretty darn vapid. Also for her safety (he saves her from a bike messenger accident and later buys her a new car with lots of safety features.)He worries about her career (he offers an internship at his firm almost right away). He concerns himself with how often she is being molested (way more than most of us). So controlling yes, but a caregiver as well.  They are generous, at least with the heroine. They give her lavish gifts, normally uniquely suited to her (in Christian’s case some first edition books of Ana’s favorites). Finally, they are flatteringly obsessed. A man who could have dozens of women for the asking is interested in our average (and in many cases, below average intelligence) heroine. He’s not just interested in her; he is determined to have her.

I think all of that is relevant when we look at the huge success of Fifty Shades of Grey and the surprising popularity of its hero. Because it is my personal opinion that what makes the book and hero popular is that it delivers the Old Skool hero experience without the bodice ripper cover and the scorn heaped upon those who read romance. Fifty Shades of Grey readers read romance without having to say they read romance. Whether it was through the work of a marketing genius or sheer luck, Fifty Shades broke out of its genre and got legitimized by the mainstream in a way any number of novels employing the exact same characteristics have not been able to do.

And I have to admit that after having written all that I went on the internet to look for information on why the book is popular and was surprised to discover that Smart Bitches Sarah mentions this same factor (Old Skool hero) in a blog she did on why 50 Shades is so popular. I think this is less a great minds think alike coincidence than it is a “people who’ve read a lot of romances recognize a romance hero when they see him” fact.

Adding more depth to my argument that 50 Shades readers read romance is the following argument I found in Psychology Today by Linda and Charlie Bloom:

I believe it (the popularity of 50 Shades) has a lot to do with the desire that so many of us have of being swept away from our mundane lives and into a world of passion and ecstasy. One of the things that makes this series so compelling is that it affirms the classic fantasy that the handsome prince is going to ride into our lives on his noble white steed and sweep us off of our feet, take us away from our ordinary existence and bring us to a beautiful castle where we will spend the remainder of our lives living in luxury, leisure, and of course, pleasure!

If that isn’t a pithy definition of about half of the Harlequin Presents line I don’t know what would be.

So how does all this help me come to a conclusion on whether or not Christian Grey is a douchebag or dreamboat? It doesn’t. But it does help explain why my reaction to him was “meh” rather than yay or nay. I’ve spent years reading heroes exactly like Christian.  Unless they do something to push a personal hot button, they no longer have the power to enrage me. They also don’t have the power to enamor me unless they do something extremely right. Christian landed squarely in the middle. He was honest with Anastasia about what he wanted from her, he talked to her (endlessly) about what the relationship would look like and he was kind to her as often as he was cruel. Would their relationship work for me? No. But does that make Christian an eeevvvviiillll villain? Also no.

So there are my completely mediocre feelings on Christian Grey. Now it’s time to put the question to AAR Staff: Christian Grey, dreamboat or douchebag?

Lee: I haven’t read the book, but after reading your blog, I’d say he was an honest but not perfect dreamboat.

Blythe: Straight up douchebag, IMHO. Granted, I didn’t read the last book – just the first two. But Christian is a stalker. He’s controlling. He’s a little smarmy. And I know this is not the point under debate, but his wealth is completely unbelievable. For me the behavior that puts him over the edge is telling Anna what car she needs to drive and then buying her company so he can tell her douchebag boss what to do.

There’s definitely some appeal in his incredible wealth and his very flattering obsession with Anna. I mean, if some rich, handsome guy wants to be obsessed with me because I am just that awesome, I’d probably be cool with that. But if he tells me how to work and what to drive, we’re done.

Melanie: I have to admit, I’ve tried reading 50 Shades three times – I’ve never been able to finish it. Christian creeps me out, but I don’t feel I can really decide on dreamboat or douchebag for him. It’s mainly Anna that I can’t stand, but Christian seems to pull all the stalker tendencies of Edward Cullen (which isn’t surprising, since that’s the basis for the character), and takes controlling to the next level. I don’t like controlling, it’s just not my thing. But he just sits on that line between caring/obsessed and controlling/obsessed, and that’s too close to an abusive relationship for me to feel comfortable with.

Dabney: My sense is that he, while not being my type, is an upfront demanding guy. The real problem with him is that he is drawn to a woman with, at least in the first book, so little agency. The power differential between them is so huge, it reflects poorly on him for wanting a woman who is so not his peer.

Blythe: For me I wouldn’t even say that it is that. It’s more that I can’t even believe that he has the power in the first place, or that she managed to get through college with no email address. I know I harp on that all the time, but with this book you have to take your willing suspension of disbelief, whack it with a sledgehammer, and bury it in the woods somewhere.

Part of it is simply his age. If he were 40, or even 35, I could buy into it more.

Mary: I read all three books precisely so I could understand the phenomena.  It took me a LONG time to get through the first book, but I persevered and found book 2 was slightly better and book 3 much better.  Since this is about the character of Christian and not a critique of the book, I will try to limit my comments to him and not what was wrong with the book(s) – and there is much to critique there.  I did not like Christian at all to begin with.  Controlling men are so not my type.  He was also a tad unbelievable given his success at such a young age.  However, by the second book I started to gain some empathy for him and by the third, I understood why he was the way he was.  Christian was the victim of sexual abuse by an older woman who was a Dom.  He was manipulated during an extremely difficult time in his adolescence.  I see his sexual proclivities as an attempt to regain his own agency.  I think he chose Anna precisely because she was so different from the woman who sexually abused him.  He also had issues about his birth mother and her death that would make anyone a little disturbed.  So the guy had issues.  What I saw through the course of ALL of the books is his growth and coming to terms with what had happened to him.  So while I would not characterize him as a dreamboat, he was not a douche either.  He was just a very unhappy man trying to cope with the injustices life threw his way by himself.  Anna helped him to understand that he needed help and through her encouragement, he got it.  The Christian at the end of book 3 was a much mentally healthier person than the Christian we first meet.

Shannon: I struggled with Christian throughout my reading of the first two 50 Shades books. He was extremely controlling, and, unlike a lot of people, I see nothing romantic or endearing about someone who is obsessed with another person. He seemed to believe he could behave as irrationally as he chose, but the same was not true for Anastasia. She was expected to fall in line with his every whim. Sure, he was kind to Anastasia, but it seemed a superficial kindness. He bought her expensive things as a way to further his control.Although he did grow throughout the two books I read, I didn’t find his growth sufficient. He was still a self-important ass.

Definitely a douche.

So now it’s your turn. Christian Grey, dreamboat, douchebag or who the heck cares?

Maggie AAR

 

Posted in Characters, Dreamboat or Douchebag, Heroes, Maggie AAR | Tagged , | 43 Comments