Archive for the ‘AAR Blythe’ Category

World War II Romance – Can This Be a Thing?

Friday, June 21st, 2013

the_kissI’m in the middle of a World War II romance right now that I’m reading for review. It’s okay, but not anything to write home about. I’ve been seeing more WWII stories come across my desk, but few are mainstream romances. There are inspirationals galore. Small press and indy books have always had them here and there. And they pop up in fiction, often with a romantic element. Mainstream romances, though? Not so much.

I feel like the time could be ripe for it, though. It’s not all that unusual for indie publishing to start a trend that New York later gloms onto (Fifty Shades, anyone?), and there’s a lot of appeal to the WWII setting. It comes complete with a built in conflict (the hero could die! Anyone could die!) and a cause that almost anyone could feel good about. Besides, those retro clothes are so cute. I can even overlook the fact that nearly everyone smokes (although I find that less cute). 

My so-so WWII romance got me thinking about others that I enjoyed a lot more. In no particular order:

Crossings by Danielle Steel – A huge caveat here: I read this when I was fifteen, and I have absolutely no idea whether it stands the test of time. Chances are it doesn’t. But it was the first Danielle Steel book I read (a lady I babysat for loaned it to me), and though I would soon decide that if you read one Danielle Steel book you’ve read them all, I loved this one. As I recall, it had a love triangle involving the heroine, an older husband who appeared to be working for the Vichy government in France but was secretly saving priceless French art from the Nazis, and an American soldier. And it ended with the fabulous cliched line, “Strong people cannot be defeated.” Or so I remember, anyway.

The Shell Seekers and Coming Home by Rosamunde Plicher - The Shell Seekers was a huge hit of the late eighties, and deservedly so. Coming Home came later and isn’t related, but is just as good. Both are sweeping sagas full of danger, competing love interests, and homefront sacrifices. Shell Seekers is more UK set, and if I remember correctly Coming Home wanders the globe a bit (or at least the heroine’s family gets spread out). They are worth seeking out if you’ve never read them.

Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis – I am a straight up Connie Willis fan girl. I read both of these when they came out and considered reviewing them. But since I’d already written two DIK reviews of previous books, I decided that everyone already knew I loved Connie Willis. Many of her books (including these two) are loosely connected in that they feature time traveling British historians of the future who go back to various periods to study them. Black Out and All Clear are essentially one story in two books, and they cover several different historians who all get stuck in the past as they are observing various aspects of World War II. Most, but not all, all in London during the Blitz. If you like this setting at all, these books are not to be missed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – Almost everyone I know loved this book, but it’s certainly a tear jerker. Keep a box of tissues handy for this one.

The Unsung Hero (and other early Troubleshooter books) by Suzanne Brockmann – remember how her early Troubleshooter books all had a WWII subplot woven in? That was awesome, and in some cases, better than the main plot. In Unsung Hero both plots are fabulous, and the hero is…hair challenged. You see that often in real life but rarely in romance novels.

I’m sure I am forgetting something fabulous. What great WWII books have you read? And will anyone admit to also reading Crossings? I can’t be the only one.

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

Sisters…Nailed It!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

sisterEvery romance needs a hero and heroine, but sometimes a secondary relationship is so striking, so interesting, that it almost steals the show. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, about Elizabeth and Darcy. But it’s about Elizabeth and Jane too. Some of the best moments and the best dialog are about them, and about their relationship and their differences. Series and stories involving siblings are a dime a dozen, but books that really nail sibling relationships are a lot rarer. We see a lot more Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (with its very surface relationships…Bless her beautiful hide!) than we see the Bennett girls.

When someone gets it right, it feels like a bonus. My recent favorite is Courtney Milan’s novella, The Governess Affair. It is of course about a governess and a former boxer turned finance man of sorts. But it’s also about sisters. Serena (the titular governess) is the bolder sister who, after she is raped by the Duke of Claremont, stations herself outside his home every day, vowing to keep her vigil until he agrees to support her child. Her sister Frederica is basically agoraphobic. Frederica can’t understand why Serena takes so many risks. Serena can’t understand how Frederica can live like she does – or how it is even living. They love each other, though they don’t understand each other. Toward the end of the story, Serena thinks:

Maybe Freddy would always think Serena strangely broken, and Serena would always cringe, thinking of her sister ensconced in her rooms, slowly turning to stone. There was no convincing each other, no understanding each other.

But when Serena had most needed it, her sister had given her a place to stay. For all that Freddy made her stomach hurt, they still shared an affection made bittersweet by all that divided them. Perhaps God gave one sisters to teach one to love the inexplicable.

I was so struck by the last line that I texted it to my own sister – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done before. She’s an artist, with all the creativity, originality, and free-spiritedness that implies. We love each other but tend to see life differently. I’m not sure she’s ever understood, for example, why anyone would spend years writing about romance novels when one could spend years writing romance novels (though she’s stopped saying that…at least out loud). We found common ground over the Milan quote, which she liked as much as I did. It was more insight than I’d bargained for in a novella.

While I have seen authors handle easy, companionable sibling relationships well (Nora Roberts comes to mind here, but there are others), I was hard-pressed to think of books that really went below the surface, or delved into more complicated sibling relationships. Who can you think of who “gets” the sibling relationship and does it right?

Total aside about sibling differences: I could tell you every detail of the t-shirt my sister is wearing in the picture above, but I’d be very surprised if she could (remembering things from thirty years ago is more in my wheelhouse). Although you can’t see it, it has Snoopy on it – in sunglasses, throwing a frisbee. It was the last one of its kind in the BYU bookstore, and she got it in a fair-and-square coin toss. I had to settle for the much less cool one with Snoopy sleeping on his house. It’s okay – now that it’s been thirty years, I’ve decided to let my resentment go.

Would you have made it?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

sybilSometimes the right book can really get you thinking about a question. In this case, the right book was actually a novella, Danelle Harmon’s The Admiral’s Heart. The premise is that the heroine ends her relationship with the hero when they are both young – without explaining why - because she’s allergic to dogs. He has a beloved dog, and she doesn’t want to force him to choose between them. This got me thinking about not only about the idea of choosing between a pet and a highly allergic person, but also about people with allergies and how they might have fared in a more rural society.

I can’t think of too many historical romances that mention people with allergies. In fact, besides the Harmon heroine, the only one I could come up with was the father of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton family, who I am fairly sure died of an allergic reaction to a bee sting (though it’s been a few years, so I’m not 100% sure on that). I don’t know whether people have more allergies now or we just hear about them more. Or perhaps people who had severe allergies were just considered “sickly” and no one knew what was wrong? Either way, it’s not something you read about often. (more…)

Not You too, Barnes & Noble…

Friday, February 1st, 2013

bandnWhen I was growing up, my dad always gave me books for my birthday. Children’s books when I was little, and more literary fare when I was a teenager – books he’d read himself and loved. He worked in Manhattan and bought books home from the Barnes & Noble there. I still remember what the bags looked like (brown and white), and how excited I was knowing that inside them I would find books for me. Once or twice I actually got to go pick out my own books, in that New York City store that seemed huge. It was the seventies, before the era of the big box book retailers, so our options closer to home were limited to mall bookstores and one or two small independents. (more…)

Reviewer’s Choice 2012

Friday, January 18th, 2013

It’s that time again – the time of year when the AAR staff weighs in with our pick for best romance of the year. This column is a yearly event for me, and I’ve been writing it for so long that I couldn’t remember when I started writing it (so I checked. The answer? 2001! I couldn’t believe it either). I always enjoy hearing our staff gush, and I always find something I should have read already.  After reading Dabney’s top picks for this year, I’ve decided I need to read more novellas.

At the risk of sounding like an old lady who begins every sentence with “Back in my day…” I feel like we’ve seen a lot of changes over the years. Gone are the days when virtually half our staff voted for the same book (Suzanne Brockmann’s Over the Edge). We’re a diverse lot these days, and the highest number of votes any book got was two. And maybe I’m also becoming a pushover, but I let two reviewers make more than once choice. Sad to say, this was also a year when many of us didn’t feel like we had a lot of choices. Lots of us read good books, but had trouble coming up with great books. And that’s a trend I’d love to see turn around in 2013. Nonetheless, we picked our favorites and found books to recommend. If you missed any of these, read fast; our annual poll ends January 20 at midnight. (more…)

Finding the Time

Friday, January 11th, 2013

December was a horrible reading month for me. Not because I was reading bad books; I liked what I read. It was a bad month because I read so little. I finished one review book and half of another (which I basically liked, but couldn’t seem to get through), and managed one book sheerly for pleasure. It had to be the least I had read in recent memory, and it felt dismal.

It got me thinking about when we read. Both during the days and the years. When AAR was younger (and so was I), I was a stay at home mom. The first year I reviewed I easily knocked out 8-10 books/reviews a month, a pace that astounds me now. I had three kids, but no paid job, and my husband worked a lot of nights and weekends at the time, so it wasn’t like I was exactly out on the town, either. I’m not exactly sure how I did it, because little kids are a lot of work – but they must have slept sometimes, because I was polishing off a book every couple of days. I’d read over a hundred in a year.

Sometimes I would get the question: “How do you find the time to read all those books?” I admit to feeling pretty smug about it at the time. “I read them while you’re watching TV,” I’d think. To some extent, that’s true. I’m still astounded by the amount of TV many people can take in. But as the years have gone on and my reading speed has diminished accordingly, I’ve had to acknowledge that TV is only part of the story. A full time job can cut down on your reading time considerably, and the world of online attractions has expanded exponentially. I’m capable of losing a lot of time keeping up with facebook and twitter, and we won’t even mention my little scramble habit. Oh, and I started a new job with a longer commute, so that shaves off some reading time too.

When do I read now? Every night, and usually during my lunch. I don’t work every day, of course, but my days off are usually filled with errands and miscellaneous AAR work – not, unfortunately, reading. If I’m exhausted at night, I don’t necessarily get a lot of reading done, even if I am enjoying my current book. I’d like to turn this around and carve off more reading time, but I’m not really sure how to make that happen (really, I still don’t watch that much TV). Maybe the best solution is to go on more vacations, because I read like there’s no tomorrow on an airplane.

What’s your experience with this? Are you at a time in your life where you read a lot or a little? What factors in your life influence your reading time? And when, exactly, do you find the time to read?

Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome

Friday, November 30th, 2012

While I was reading a book last week – a good one, one that I was really enjoying – I found myself reacting in an unexpected way. The book was swimming merrily along, with a hero and heroine I liked and a plot I enjoyed. Then they are caught in a somewhat compromising position, and the hero proposes. The heroine doesn’t say yes immediately, and that’s where I lost it. While I hesitate to compare myself to someone who spent a year in combat and then hits the ground when there’s a loud noise…well, that’s almost where I was, metaphorically.

All I could think immediately was: “What? Is she really going to say no to him, even though she’s attracted to him and down to her last guinea? You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t handle this anymore!” If I’d waited two seconds, I’d have found out that she soon says yes. She reasons out her response, thinks it out, weighs her options – and says yes. (more…)

Reading about Reading

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

For my last book club meeting, we all read biographies – any biography. While I had enjoyed some biographies in the past (I loved David McCullough’s biography of John Adams), I don’t really gravitate toward them; usually if I am reading one it is because someone else chose it for book club. I hemmed and hawed over my choice until I spotted a book that caught my eye: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. It’s more of a memoir than a biography, but to me it was close enough to be on topic. Better yet, it was of high interest to me because it was essentially someone else talking about her reading life.

That was, in fact, the main draw for me. Almost as much as I like to read, I like to talk about reading, hear about reading, and read about reading. And discussions of childhood reading are probably my favorites. I like to know what drove other people to read what they did, and why they loved their favorite childhood books. (more…)

Publishing News: Avon Social Reader

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Avon released the following announcement Tuesday concerning their new social reader app:

The Avon Social Reader
New App integrates with Facebook to allow advance excerpts, sharing, and DRM-free purchasing

New York, NY – October 16, 2012 –Around the world, women are reading in new ways, often online or on a device, and sharing what they read via social media outlets. In many cases, Facebook has become a key part of the equation. Consumers are spending hours each day browsing the latest headlines while interacting with their friends, families and acquaintances through the platform. Now, leading romance publisher Avon Books is piloting a free Facebook app, AvonSocialReader.com , which will give readers the chance to read excerpts from Avon’s latest books, share their favorites with friends, and discover new content based on what their friends are reading. Up to 20 percent of each book will be available to read, and once a book is browsed in the app, a person can choose to have that book show up in their News Feed or timeline for friends to see. There will also be clickable buy links to DRM-free editions of the selected Avon books from allromanceebooks.com. Consumers can also choose to purchase DRM-enabled versions of the books at other online retailers.

A recent online consumer survey indicated that romance readers are highly active in the digital arena, purchasing e-books and sharing information via social channels. Many of the respondents pointed to Facebook as being the center point of their social/digital sharing world. “Many are using apps to share the news stories that they are reading online instantly with their friends,” says Liate Stehlik, Senior Vice President and Publisher of William Morrow and Avon Books. “The recent word-of-mouth phenomenon surrounding Fifty Shades of Gray confirms that women are talking about the books they are reading in equal measure. Thus, Avon worked to create a simple way for friends to connect on Facebook over the books they are most passionate about.”

She continues, “The Avon Social Reader is a fun, user-friendly way for readers to sample an interesting mix of excerpts posted to this Facebook app every month, and then virally spread the news about what they are reading via social media.”

Partnering with allromanceebooks.com allows Avon, for the first time, to offer a DRM-free option to their authors and readers, “a publishing capability many of them had asked us to pursue,” Stehlik says. The files can be delivered as secure Adobe ePub -book editions. Bestselling author Tessa Dare expresses her excitement, saying, “I know that DRM can be a frustration for honest, paying readers who just want to purchase and read books on their preferred devices. Avon’s experiment will help me reach a new segment of the digital readership.” New York Times bestseller Cathy Maxwell says, “I’m excited that readers will now have a new way to get the inside scoop on our books – and what a great, easy way to share with all of their friends on Facebook!”
The Avon Social Reader is intuitive and easy to use. Fully integrated within Facebook Platform, the app enables readers to flip from status updates to a book excerpt that a friend is reading with one quick click. The more they use the app and interact, the better it gets!
The Avon Social Reader will be launched out via Facebook today, with excerpts and buy links for the following titles:

· A Blood Seduction: A Vamp City Novel by Pamela Palmer
· A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare
· A Night Like This by Julia Quinn
· A Scandalous Scot by Karen Ranney
· A Warrior’s Promise by Donna Fletcher
· A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare
· After the Abduction by Sabrina Jeffries
· Chosen: A Dark Breed Novel by Sable Grace
· Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville
· Darkness Becomes Her by Jaime Rush
· Dark Desire by Christine Feehan
· How to Be a Proper Lady: A Falcon Club Novel by Katharine Ashe
· Lady Alexandra’s Excellent Adventure: A Summersby Tale by Sophie Barnes
· Last Vamp Standing by Kristin Miller
· Lyon’s Bride: The Chattan Curse by Cathy Maxwell
· Mating Season: A Cabin Fever Novella by Alice Gaines
· Nine Lives of an Urban Panther by Amanda Arista
· Once Burned: A Night Prince Novel by Jeaniene Frost
· Perilous Pleasures by Jenny Brown
· Sins of a Virgin by Anna Randol
· Skies of Fire: The Ether Chronicles by Zoe Archer
· Tarnished: The St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper
· The Art of Duke Hunting by Sophia Nash
· The Way to a Duke’s Heart: The Truth About the Duke by Caroline Linden
· Under a Vampire Moon: An Argeneau Novel by Lynsay Sands
· Wanted: Undead or Alive by Kerrelyn Sparks
· When Dreams Come True by Cathy Maxwell
· Wicked Road to Hell: A League of Guardians Novel by Juliana Stone
· Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth

Facebook® is a registered trademark of Facebook Inc.

More information about The Avon Social Reader is available online at Avon’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/avonromance or via the direct link, www.AvonSocialReader.com .

What are your thoughts on this news? Is this a social platform you will use? Something you never knew you needed until it was there? Is the idea of substantial excerpts or DRM-free purchasing something that will draw you in? Or are you already tapped out on social media and sharing?