Peddling Visions of Beauty

STnude11382555281.tifThree weeks ago the weather turned, and I opened my closet to find some light summer skirts. No such luck –  I’d put on weight, so the old ones didn’t fit, and the others were too heavy for humid 27 degree weather. So I went shopping. I chose a mall and went with an open mind and larger than usual budget – I’m in my thirties, I want fairly good quality that’s not going to break the bank, and I have a body shape that can be difficult to shop for, vertically challenged and horizontally inconsistent. So yeah, I wasn’t expecting to find $10 skirts.

After three hours I was ready to do my head in. I’d run the gamut from Walmart to the Bay to Banana Republic, but I was a victim of Fashion, which this year seems to be either maxi dresses or skirts that just barely cover the vulva. And when skirts did fit me, in size and style, they were asking for something outrageous. $90 for a flipping polyester skirt, which I damn well know was made in an overcrowded Cambodian factory? No way. So I did what I should have done from the start: I went to a secondhand store and got 4 skirts of different styles for $30.

I went home feeling a curious mixture of fury and elation. $30 including tax, for a variety of work-casual skirts of different cuts and colours? Major back pat. But that I could literally not find anything suiting my age, body type, and budget in a mall of over 100 stores? Enraging. And I am hardly at an extreme. I live above the poverty line. I am able. I am not “plus size”. I am neither young nor old.  All of that should, theoretically, allow me run of the mall. But in fact I was screwed because Fashion allows for all of that except the most important: choice. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Mary’s Picks

There is absolutely no possible way that I can trim my favorite romance novels down to ten. Therefore, I am going to take a page from other reviewers’ entries and exempt those written in the 19th century (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell). I am also going to state that Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is a given, but because the story continues and the end has not yet been written, it will be excluded from my top 10 list. I am also going to exclude A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught, because Jenna included it her list and I would not want to be redundant. So…in no particular order and with the caveat that I could exchange some books on this list at any time, here is my qualified Top 10 list: Continue reading

Unusual Occupations

zookeeper I’m a big fan of romance characters with well-rounded lives. I like my heroes and heroines to have friends, hobbies, and careers. Sure, once in a while a “couple on the run” or “cabin romance” will work for me, but such romances are not my preference. As a result, I was excited when readers asked that we open the Unusual Occupations Special Titles List for submissions, as it’s one of my favorites.

But what is it, exactly, that makes an occupation “unusual” enough to qualify for the list? The description of the list is one of the shortest of any of the Special Title Lists: Continue reading

Would you have made it?

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. Continue reading

Defending the Faith

Joan_of_Arc_(133751960) Every year in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and on the holiday itself, the radio station I listen to every morning engages in a tradition that always gets under my skin. They call it “Romantic Ramblings,” and it involves sending one of the on-air DJs from the morning drive team over to nearest Walgreens, where he (always a he) selects a romance novel off the shelf, opens to a random page, and begins reading the “smut” he finds inside.

The DJ is instructed to select the book with the most extreme cover, and given that he always – always – manages to select a page that contains some kind of physical interaction between the hero and heroine, you have to wonder how random his selection process truly is. No romance, not even the bodice rippers of old, contains sex on every single page but he manages to hit pay dirt 100% of the time. The folks back in the studio giggle and joke while bow-chicka-wow-wow music plays in the background. Despite the bit’s title – “Romantic Ramblings” – there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s more titillating in that thirteen-year-old boys ogling contraband copies of Playboy sort of way. Continue reading

A Few Thoughts on Foreshadowing

Let’s start with a definition: Per Wikipedia “foreshadowing or adumbrating is a literary device in which an author indistinctly suggests certain plot developments that will come later in the story.”

Usually when you think of foreshadowing, you think of a plot device that is used in mystery or suspense, but as more and more authors are writing series books, I am discovering that it is being utilized more in the romance genre.

In the mystery genre foreshadowing is used typically as a precursor to pending doom and build suspense for the great pièce de résistance.  I remember racing through the pages of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games desperate to find out what was going to happen to Jack Ryan’s family.

In the romance genre it can be used for a mystery within the story, however many authors use it to create desire for the next book in the series.  It is like a movie trailer broadcasting coming attractions.  It can be about a character and a potential relationship or it can be a plot device.  But no matter what it is about the author creates a hook for the reader and gives them a reason to buy the next book.

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Romance Heroines and Exercise

ICPI’ll admit it’s not easy staying in shape, and at times I seem to be fighting a losing battle. In the middle of the winter, curling up with a good book is much more appealing than going out for a long walk on a sub-zero day. But on most days I do try. In nice weather I go for a lot of walks; in colder or rainy weather I’ll return to the treadmills in the fitness center where I live. I attend yoga classes off-and-on, or do some yoga at home, to work on my balance and flexibility.  And I even have a few free weights to do some strength training. Perhaps it’s my own efforts in this regard, but lately I’ve been longing to read about contemporary romance heroines who squeeze in a bit of exercise into their lives.

I’m specifically interested in contemporary romance heroines, because, let’s face, it, reading that a Regency era heroine has a fitness room or that she regularly hikes up her skirts and jogs just wouldn’t be appropriate. And most paranormal or urban fantasy heroines either seem to regularly stay in shape to survive, or have very specific natural abilities and powers that endow them with extra strength and speed. But what about your average contemporary romance heroine? And by average, I mean a non-athlete heroine who manages to fit in a bit of exercising into her regular routine.

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Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas Five-Book Giveaway (Giveaway Closed)

LKSummer is 2/3 over and it’s a perfect time to relax with a great book – even better when it’s a highly anticipated book by a much-loved author.  Thanks to the generosity of Lisa and her publisher, I’ve got five copies of Dream Lake to giveaway to five lucky readers.

Honesty alert: I’m in the middle of this one now and I’m loving it.  The third in the author’s series of books set on Washington state’s San Juan Island, this one is Nolan brother Alex’s story.  Here’s what the publisher has to say about the book:

Dream Lake takes readers once again to the exquisite setting of Friday Harbor, and tells the story of Zoe Hoffman, an innkeeper who has all but given up on love. She’s a gentle, romantic soul, but has been so hurt in the past that she dare not trust her heart with anyone. Especially not Alex Nolan. Alex is the most haunted of all the Nolan brothers. He drinks to keep his demons at bay and not only has he given up on love, he has never, ever believed in it. Zoe and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes, it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark. Dream Lake is classic Lisa Kleypas: romantic, powerful, emotional, and magical.”

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What a Pain

manHaving had major surgery a few weeks ago, I was a little disconcerted when my next two review books featured protagonists in pain. I was immediately struck by the realization that physical pain is something that many authors don’t portray realistically at all.

We all know the cliché: Hero is shot, stabbed, beaten up, whatever, and his immediate thoughts turn to sex. Sex?! Having just been sliced open under the best sterile surgical conditions, I can say without a doubt that sex was the last thing on my mind. Adding a pain killer like the norco I’m taking doesn’t change my mind at all. General oral pain killers, it seems to me, mask the pain as long as you don’t probe the wound, but don’t totally kill it. You need a shot near the wound site for that.

But Victoria Dahl’s cowboy hero Cole in Close Enough to Touch, recuperating from having a horse fall on him and suffering from a broken tibia and pelvis is ready to roll at the drop of a hat. And does.

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