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

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

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

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New Book Trailer Discoveries

I love movie trailers. Back in February I saw a trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and was hooked. It stuck in my mind as a “must see” movie, one I finally got to see this past weekend. But I’m not just a fan of movie trailers, I’m also addicted to book trailers.

Whether they’re created by readers or professional firms, I can be endlessly entertained by a good book trailer. I know some readers disagree. Over three years ago Jane posted here about her dislike of book trailers. Book trailers work differently for me than movie trailers. I rarely see a book trailer until after I’ve actually read a book. Every few months I find myself checking out YouTube for new – or previously undiscovered – book trailers by some of my favorite authors.  I thought it might be fun to share with you some of my new favorite trailers.

I love this trailer for C.A. Belmond’s A Rather Remarkable Homecoming. It begins with some gorgeous video of scenes where the book was set. It then moves on to a bit of text describing the characters and the plot. That’s it. It’s short, but the background music and everything about it fits with the book.

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Favorite Settings: Greece

ia-view2-from-boatI love vivid settings in romance and am particularly fond of foreign settings. When they’re done well, I learn more about a country, feel as if I’m there, but still enjoy the story. Long before I ever visited Greece I fell in love with the country – or at least one of the Greek Islands – by reading Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners, set on the island of Crete. I haven’t visited Crete myself, but feel as if I actually know what parts of it look like thanks to Ms. Stewart’s words. What I carried with me, for years, were the windmills of Crete.

After I read The Moon-Spinners for the first time, I knew that someday I wanted to visit Greece, and at least one Greek island. And I also knew that I wanted to read more books set in Greece – both the islands and mainland.

The Special Settings section of AAR’s Special Title’s Listing includes six books set in Greece, three by Mary Stewart. I’ve tried five of the six books, but have enjoyed the three by Ms. Stewart the most. In addition to The Moon-Spinners, the list includes Ms. Stewart’s My Brother Michael and This Rough Magic.

Rike gave a DIK review at AAR to Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael, set in Delphi. Rike notes of Delphi that:  “It’s a truly magical, mystical place. Whatever your own religious persuasion is, there you’ll find it very easy to feel close to a higher being, and understand perfectly well why the Greeks built a sanctuary for Apollo on that very mountainside.”

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Five Awesome Romance Things

bookofawesome3dIntroduction first: In case you were unaware of the 1000 Awesome Things blog, Neil Pasricha was at a down point in his life a couple of years ago, and decided to cheer himself up by blogging about the good, often unnoticed, things in life.  When gas prices go down just as you need some gas.  When you turn a pillow onto its fresh side.  The fact that we exist.  When a cashier opens a new cash line.  You know – awesome things.

1000 posts and 3 bestsellers later, the blog is over.  In (belated) honour of the 1000th post, I decided to write about the awesome things in romance.  It’s been a good exercise, because too often I focus on the annoying or tedious in romance novels.  But despite the bad stuff, there are many reasons I stick with romance novels, and they’re all awesome (in my opinion, anyway).  So here, counting down, are my Five Awesome Romance Things.

5. You can’t please everyone, but you can please someone. Publishing is a transient business.  Just think of all those thousands – no, millions of books that clutter used bookstores, books that are in and out of print, remembered and forgotten.  But what’s great about romances is that even 999 people think a book’s absolute crap, there’s probably at least one person who finds it awesomer than Kraft Dinner.

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The “Country Cousin” Romances

farmhouse Growing up I read a lot of historical novels. Many were set in the U.S., most in rural areas like the Appalachian, Ozark, or Smoky Mountain regions, the backwoods of Kentucky or the bayous of Louisiana. They primarily took place between the Civil War and World War II. They featured young, plucky heroines who wanted more from life than what was available to them at home. Some, like Ballad of Calamity Creek and Christy , focused on young women who came to the mountains to offer people education and discovered wisdom and love in the rural areas where they worked. Others, like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Heidi , involved young women leaving rural communities to better their opportunities. And still others, like the Little House on the Prairie saga simply showed what life on a farm or homestead was like. Invariably these heroines were cheerful, hardworking young women who embraced the honest values and down-to-earth life style of country living.
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The Cupcake Craze

cupcakeWhat is it about over-priced, calorie-laden, exotic cupcakes that has everyone in such a twitter?  I don’t get it. I particularly don’t get it when a friend was telling me that she bought cupcakes for her daughter’s class at school and thought she had a bargain because they didn’t cost over $100. Fifteen cupcakes for under $100? Is that really a bargain these days?

Then I started getting review books that featured cupcake bakers who find love through exotic ingredients and piles of frosting.

First I read Cupcake Rush by Donna Kauffman, and while I understood the minimalist approach of baking small goodies rather than a huge cake, I didn’t really buy that an upscale New York baker would chuck it all to become a cupcake specialist in a downscale Southern seaside town. But I didn’t think much about the cupcake angle.

Then the avalanche of cupcake books landed on me:

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Reviewer’s Choice: Our 2011 Favorites

It’s that time of the year – when we get to celebrate our favorites and do nothing but gush. As usual, everyone picks one favorite (but can also mention their favorite runners up).

This year is similar to last in a few ways: Historicals seem to be carrying the day for many of us, and there isn’t a lot of consensus. Only two books received more than one top nod, and our winner  received only three. Though a majority are historicals, our choices include some paranormals, Urban Fantasy, and YA. Here are the books that had us sighing with pleasure and turning pages into the night in 2011:

Louise: The best books that I read this year were not 2011 books, so I had trouble with both the poll and this question.  I guess if I was going to name the best 2011 book that I read there would give a slight edge to Jamie MacGuire’s Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire – a great story about two people who are both scarred from their pasts and who become something of a train wreck as a couple until they learn to work things out and realize how much better they are together than apart.

I also loved Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison – an all around great book – clever, funny, steamy, romantic, plus a great starting place for a new series.  I guess a third choice would be Spellweaver by Lynn Kurland because as a fan of the series, this book was one I anxiously waited for and thoroughly enjoyed.  It is hard to place it on a “best book” list, though, because it is really part two of three and the story wasn’t complete until the third part.

Bessie: I haven’t been reading a lot of straight romance.  This year has been catching up with some series of urban fantasy.  The new series that was the most fun is by Kevin Hearne -The Iron Druid Chronicles. Atticus is a 2000 year old druid who looks like a 20-something slacker.  He runs an occult bookshop in Arizona and lives with his Irish wolfhound Oberon.  They share and psychic bond and have some hilarious conversations.  The first three titles were all published in 2011: Hounded, Hexed and Hammered.  Number 4 is coming out this spring: Tricked. The other series that I zipped through was the Cal and Niko Leandros series by Rob Thurman. Blackout came out in 2011.

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In Search of the Real Regency

Regency In my search for good historical reading, I’ll admit that I’m sometimes guilty of something. I’ll moan about Regency-set historicals as a shorthand for “historicals with idiot twit leads, wallpaper settings and stupid gimmicks that make me crazy.” And I know that’s not fair of me. The Regency period itself has much to recommend it, and modern-day silliness dressed up in poofy gowns was certainly not what it was all about. I don’t dislike the Regency period as a historical era; it’s more that I’ve read too many books that claim this time period as their setting even though one would never be able to discern this from the text of the book itself.
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Deal Breakers: Have We All Gotten a Bit Too Cranky?

stock-vector-policeman-yelling-stop-retro-clip-art-58890815Even a casual visitor to the AAR message boards quickly learns one thing:  We are an opinionated bunch.

And in just about every thread somebody posts about a plot device they loathe.  Be it a couple who jumps into bed right off the bat or an arranged marriage, the list of plot devices that we loathe seems to number in the thousands.  Maybe millions.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but not by much.  We’re a bunch of cranky pants.

And, when you think about it, we’re leaving authors with little to nothing to work with.  Because constructing a plot that doesn’t feature any of the devices that someone loathes would be nearly impossible.

Here’s what I think:  We’ve gotten so narrow in our list of what we’re looking for when we read, that we’re denying ourselves a whole lot of good stuff.

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Historical Mystery Writers Panel

Bookpanel-11-06-11I recently attended an event featuring three historical mystery writers at Aunt Agatha’s bookstore. Two of the authors – Jeanne M. Dams and D.E. Johnson – set their mystery series in the United States during the early 1900s. The third, Carrie Bebris, writes mysteries set in Regency England. And for AAR readers who like mysteries with a bit of romance, I can definitely recommend the books by Ms. Dams and Ms. Bebris.

Jeanne M. Dams, Murder in Burnt Orange, is the 7th in her Hilda Johansson series, set in early 1900s South Bend, Indiana. When the series began, Hilda was a maid to the Studebakers, the wealthy South Bend family who owned the Studebaker car company. Hilda quickly became involved with mysteries. A lot has changed for Hilda over the course of the series, and by the seventh book, she’s married and pregnant with her first child.  Ms. Dams also writes the Dorothy Martin series featuring an ex-pat American widow in her sixties who lives in England.

Carrie Bebris’ The Deception at Lyme, is the sixth in her Mr. and Mrs. Darcy series; yes, that Mr.  and Mrs. Darcy. Each book in the series is based loosely on the characters from a Jane Austen books. Ms. Bebris refers to them as the Nick and Nora Charles of Regency England, but they drink tea instead of alcohol. In her latest, Elizabeth and Darcy go to Lyme (setting for the seawall scene in Austen’s Persuasion).

D. E. Johnson’s latest book, his second, Motor City Shakedown is set in 1911 Detroit. His protagonist, Will Anderson, is the fictional son of a real Detroit car company owner. In his second book, Will walks into the first mob war in Detroit history.

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