Archive for the ‘Romance reading’ Category

Heroines and Aging: A Bit Painfully

Friday, July 5th, 2013

birthdaycakecandles Back in July of 2006, Robin Uncapher wrote an At the Back Fence column (#232) that is so timely for me as to be kind of eerie. She discussed the role age plays on romance novels: in who buys them, in how the age of the heroine is perceived, in what is considered acceptable versus creepy…well, just go read the article because I’m not doing it justice.

This particular topic is timely because next week I will celebrate my birthday. I’ll confess that this particular one shifts me closer to fifty than to forty, and if I think on it too long, I tend to get a big panicky. I know I’m still in the prime of my life, hopefully with at least another four or five decades to go. To call myself ‘old’ is as insulting and ridiculous as the size 2 supermodel calling herself fat. (more…)

AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – LinnieGayl’s Picks

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

seaswept As one of AAR’s three pollsters – along with LeeB and Cindy – I truly adore the Top 100 poll. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun to look at the ballots as they come in. I was excited when everyone at AAR decided to post their top ten romances as a lead-up to the Top 100 polling in October. But I was also a bit nervous. Since I’ve seen the ballots AAR readers submitted in 2007 and 2010, I know that my top ten romances are a bit idiosyncratic.

Like most of my colleagues at AAR, I decided to set up some rules for my Top 10. I’ve made no attempt to balance the list by subgenre. Nor did I limit my list to just one romance per author (as you’ll quickly see). But I did decide to list just one entry from each series or trilogy and went with the first in a series. In some cases the first entry isn’t my favorite, but these are series that I believe should be read from the beginning, they’re just that good. All but one of the romances on my list (#9) are frequent rereads and/or re-listens.

Unlike many of my AAR colleagues, while I adore Pride and Prejudice, it isn’t actually in the top ten on my ballot, so I didn’t have to make any rules about it. But I did struggle long and hard about placing a mystery – with seriously strong romantic elements – on my list. The first in the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Crocodile on the Sandbank, can almost be taken as a cozy romantic suspense, and was actually my “A review” when I applied to be an AAR reviewer. While the series definitely reads as mystery, at its heart is the endearing romance between Amelia and Emerson. While I stuck with romances for my list, one historical romance set in Egypt made it onto my list and another (Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase) just missed. (more…)

AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Lee’s Picks

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

bronzehorseman Week after week after week I’ve been reading the other AAR staffers Top Ten blogs and have been hoping they wouldn’t choose some of my favorite books, but some were indeed chosen (The Windflower by Laura London; Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase; Chase the Moon by Catherine Nicholson; and The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne) so I decided to go with books that haven’t been chosen yet (I hope).

I don’t review books but instead help with behind the scenes work as well as being one of the three pollsters who calculate ballots for the Annual Poll and the Top 100 Poll which AAR runs every three years.

If I’m on a desert isle, and I can only have ten books, I want stories with excellent plots, memorable characters and that extra something that makes me feel an emotion – laughter, sadness (but not too much sadness), joy, angst, wonder – but stories that end with a happy ending. Most of these books I have read at least twice, if not more, so they have stood up to the test of time for me.

I suppose I could gush even more so about each book but I’ve learned over the years to downplay my enthusiasm for a book when trying to suggest someone read it. Too much high praise raises expectations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a movie review where the critic says “the audience was standing and cheering at the end.” Uh huh. NEVER have been at a movie theater when that happened. (more…)

TBR Challenge 2013: Into the RITA Wayback Machine

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

rendezvousatgramercy This month’s theme for the multi-site TBR Challenge had me scratching my head a little. We’re supposed to read a RITA winner or runner-up. Now I have to admit that, at least in recent years, my reading tastes and the RITAs have diverged somewhat. I also noticed as I scrolled down the list of RITA winners that the books I did have from that list were almost all books I’d already read.

Then I got to the real oldies – books I would have been too young to read the first time around. My mother and grandmother both enjoyed Candlelight romances and I’ve ended up with a big box of their former keepers (some people get silver and china, some get antiques, I get old category romances and gothics – no wonder I write on a romance site). Sure enough, I managed to dig out a 1981 novel, winner of the 1982 Golden Medallion for Best Category Historical Romance, entitled Rendezvous at Gramercy by Constance Ravenlock. That’s right. This book goes back so far that they hadn’t even started calling the award the RITA yet. I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter when I read this one but it turned out to be a bit of a gem. I’d probably give it a B. (more…)

AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Anne’s Picks

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

defynottheheart My first thought when I heard about this was “Eek! Only ten?” These picks are in no particular order, and some make no sense when I look at them. But these were the books I often think of when I try to pick favorites — often because they influenced me so much. Sadly, some of the romances I loved the most have titles like “That old Silhouette where the hero helped the heroine recover from an abusive childhood. Or something. I think it was blue.”

If I left your book off the list, don’t feel bad. It might be one of dozens of runner-ups. Or maybe it was one of those books I’ve been trying to remember for years. Was your book blue?

1) Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey

This book broke rules and yet still managed to be classic Lindsey, without being classic Lindsey that involved Viking slave collars and the like. Even the sex was mediocre at first, until the hero found out how to make it better for the heroine. That was a great touch. But I’ll always remember this book for the gay lady’s maid Theo. An unexpected find in a Medieval. Sure, the hero and heroine fought a lot. This is a Lindsey, right? Was it PC? Come on! This is a Lindsey! (more…)

Loving Problematic Books

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

chinagarden Grading books is not always straightforward. For me, there is no rubric, no check-list of Do’s and Don’t's. I have a few deal-breakers, but not many. When I assign a book a DIK grade, though, I often feel like it has to be perfect — or at least very, very close. The writing must be flawless. The characters, well-developed. The plot, exciting, believable, and interesting. But I’ve found that some of the books I go back to, the ones I re-read over and over again (the true test, in my opinion, of a DIK), are objectively problematic in some way.

“Problematic” can mean a lot of different things. Maybe there is a pretty huge logical fallacy upon which the plot hangs. Maybe there’s something that should be totally unromantic, unhealthy, or taboo. Recently, my fellow AAR reviewers and staff members got to talking about our favorite books that have some flaw or problem. (more…)

Tying it up in a Bow

Friday, May 17th, 2013

tiedupbowAs romance readers we like happy endings. I still remember the book that pushed me firmly away from historical fiction into the romance camp. The heroine was a New England ship captain’s wife. It started out with a romantic meeting and courtship, and ended with plummeting fortunes and marital discord. I closed the book and tried to think why I had wanted to read it in the first place, or why anyone would want to read it. If I’m reading for pleasure, I want it to end happily. But I have to wonder whether ending happily means it also has to end neatly.

Because we also complain about hackneyed epilogues. You know what I mean. It’s a year later, and the heroine has just given birth to the adorable heir (because I swear it is usually a boy). Our hero and heroine look at each other with gooey eyes and perfect happiness. There’s no hint that the baby in question might get sick, or their financial fortunes will undergo an abrupt reversal, or even that the beloved family dog will pee on the priceless Aubusson carpet. In other words, there’s no inkling that the hero and heroine are about to experience life as we know it. If there’s any hint of discord in an epilogue, it tends to be in the form of angst for the couple’s friend/relative/old school chum who will be featured in the next sequel. 

What got me thinking about this in the first place? I read two with slipshod endings, both of which read as if the author got sick of writing and just ended the book with little thought or planning. One I have reviewed (and panned) already – Dusk with a Dangerous Duke. In this gem, the story ends with the hero and heroine professing their love as a house burns down around them (after bickering the book away), after which someone (no one ever says who) breaks down the door and presumably puts the fire out. The happy couple walks pout the door to live happily ever after (one assumes) without helping put the fire out, thanking the rescuer, or appearing in a happy epilogue with a dimpled baby in tow.

The second book is one I’m about to review (better than the first, but not by much), which leaves an ending with plot holes big enough to drive a semi through. My personal favorite was the way the hero’s brother had been grazed by a bullet and thought he was Russian. He stills thinks he’s Russian at the end of the book. Or was it the heroine’s brother, who was apparently kidnapped by Indians and renowned for his fiery red hair? Everyone knew about him (except the heroine apparently - she’d been trying to find him for five years). I’m pretty sure these loose ends will be addressed in the next book – which I will definitely not be sticking around to read.

Is there a happy medium somewhere? A non-gooey epilogue? A sunny – bot not completely unrealistic - ending? One where loose ends are tied up satisfactorily but not too neatly? One I can think of recently the struck all the right notes was Cecelia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone. The hero and heroine are happy, but their life is a modest one. Their immediate, pressing issues are resolved, but they aren’t exactly living in fabulous wealth  - or bouncing a baby on both arms.

What kind of ending strikes the right note for you? Do you like the ooey-gooey love and babies? Do you need everything tied up in a bow?

– Blythe Barnhill

TBR Challenge 2013: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

unclaimed Given that our “assignment” for the TBR Challenge this month involved reading an author who’s represented more than once in our TBR piles, I couldn’t wait to jump into Courtney Milan’s 2011 release, Unclaimed. If you enjoy strong, character-driven romance, this book is an amazing treat. Definitely a DIK read for me.

This book comes second in the Turner Brothers trilogy, and while it can be read on different levels, it’s deeply satisying no matter how far you want to let your mind dig into it. On the surface, Milan tells an emotional story of two painfully misunderstood people who somehow manage to figure one another out enough to make the other whole. And underneath the surface? Well, Courtney Milan devotes more than a little bit of time to skewering the “keeping up appearances” school of morals. The musings on morality and hypocrisy that run through the story are thoughtfully done and lingered in my mind as long as the actual love story. (more…)

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Jean’s Picks

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

See, I knew that signing up for this blog would cause me a headache. How are you supposed to choose the top ten romances that rock your world? How? How? (At the back of my mind I have the Baha Men singing along, except it’s “How do you choose now? How, how, how, how?” Great. Hence the headache.)

Anyway, I figured the only way I can keep sane is a) recognize that I won’t hit them all, and b) acknowledge that if I am actually stuck on a desert island with only ten romance novels, I’d go crazy anyway, no matter what I chose. (Unless I chose, like, the Koran, Paradise Lost, and Journey to the West. Then maybe I’d not go all loopy.)

I decided that what I’d probably crave the most is variety, a little bit of every genre to suit every mood. It actually turned out to be relatively easy once I’d decided on this, looked at my Top 100 list, scanned my shelves, and sliced through the different categories. I’m happy with my choices – they’re all different in setting, subgenre, writing style, and character. I’ve also read each of them at least twice – I’m a serial re-reader, so I know when something works for me, when it doesn’t, and (most of important of all) when it stands up to the test of time. (more…)

Can You Hear Me Now? – An Open Letter to Romance Authors

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

5843405057_af77f6bfb4 Dear Writers of Romance Novels,

Most of you are aware that one over-used source of conflict in a fictional relationship that drives nearly all readers absolutely batty is the Big Misunderstanding. You know the trope. The hero or heroine witnesses something or overhears something or is told something that leads him or her to a wrong conclusion about his/her love interest. Rather than confront the potentially wayward lover as soon as possible to ask her/him to explain the situation, the discussion never happens and the romance grinds to a complete halt. Too often, this Big Misunderstanding drags on and on to the point of ridiculousness, causing the reader to want to shake the fictional characters silly and throw the book at the wall.

The problem with the Big Misunderstanding these days is not so much that they happen – people frequently do jump to the wrong conclusions – it’s that the conversation it would take to clear things up is so easily arranged. At least in historicals or any story set before telephones, the character who gets the wrong idea can flounce off the scene in a snit, making a soul-cleansing heart-to-heart chat much harder to happen until their unjustly maligned partner physically hunts them down. (more…)