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

Romance Rant (Volume XXXVI)

womanToday is the 16th of December and the biggest holiday of the year is growing ever closer.

In between decorating, shopping, and being busier than I should be work-wise, I’ve had little time to read lately.  Well, let me put it this way:  Time I used to spend reading, I’m now spending more and more of it in other ways.

I wonder what’s up with that?  Is it me?

Well, to a certain extent, I think so. But to a certain extent, not.

I just can’t get excited about yet another Regency featuring yet another Miss and yet another wallpaper duke.

Ditto paranormal  and those fated mates.

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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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The Elusive A+

One of my children asked me recently if I’d ever given a book I’d reviewed an A+. I said I hadn’t. He then asked if I thought I ever would. I said yes, that in fact, there was a book I’d reviewed this past year and had given an A- to that I now see as an A+ novel (Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke.) “So what’s an A+ book?” he asked. “Let me think about it,” I said.

Not only did I think about it, I did some research. First, I checked how many A+’s AAR has given over the years. (21, and none since 2007.)  I then asked my colleagues at AAR what they would consider an A+ book and if they’d ever read one. The responses were varied, yet many had similar qualities.

Sandy said, “An A+ book is a book that satisfies on every level.  It is, in fact, a perfect book. I’ve given just one A+ and that was for Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, a book first published in 1932 that I loved as a teenager and still love today.  In my case, it was a book that stood the test of time. I wish now that I’d given an A+ to Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory.  I gave it the typical A- back then and I regret it now.”

Wendy L agreed with Sandy and added, “Yes, and it has to provoke an emotional response, either crying, laughter, or anger to make it an A+ for me.” She listed The Truelove Bride by Shana Abe, Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, possibly Charming Grace by Deborah Smith, and oddly enough Dooly and the SnortSnoot by Jack Kent as books that would rate an A+ for her.

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Buy These Books…Even If They’re Awful

One message I kept hearing during this summer’s RWA conference was that publishers were finally ready to look at books that are different. Not every publisher was saying it, mind you, but I heard it a lot more than I had the year before – when the message seemed to be: “Take a look at what we are already publishing…and write something just like that.” But at the same time, I had an author tell me that her slightly different historicals (I mean really, they were still set in England) weren’t selling as well as she – or her publisher – had hoped. Consequently, she will probably have to switch back to Regency or Victorian set historicals. Which really made me think that those of us who are informed, internet-savvy readers need to vote with our pocket books.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Regencies as much as the next person, and probably more than the next person. I hope that the people who love writing them continue to write them. There will always be room in my heart for spies, spinsters, poor relations, and Almacks. But I don’t just want to read about that. People have been successfully falling in lust and in love and populating the planet for some time now, all over the world – not just in nineteenth century England. And those of us who have been reading and reviewing romance novels for years start craving variety like we crave air.

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Embracing My Inner Fangirl

You know, the veil between publishing and authors and readers is pretty much kaput these days.  And, frankly, I kind of miss it.

I miss the days when I didn’t know anything about authors and just picked out the books I wanted to read while browsing in the bookstore before author names started to leak through.  I miss the days when books took place all over the world in exotic places and times. Some were in Regency England, but we all had a taste for diversity back then.  I particularly loved stories set in the Gilded Age in New York and Rhode Island.

This was all brought back to me in New York at RWA recently.  I was in an elevator with Bertrice Small.  Yep, that Bertrice Small.  We did that thing you do at RWA where everybody is always looking at chests to read your badge and she spoke to me first and remarked that she very much enjoyed All About Romance.  I told her that “I used to read her” which, frankly, was the best I could do.  After she thanked me, we began one of those conversations about RWA being very tiring and she indicated that she’d had it and that this would be her last conference.

Anyway, it was a thrill to meet her and it brought back to me those thrilling days of yesteryear.  I remember reading Ms. Small and her harem girls and rapes and truly skanky sex when I was in high school.  I must have read three or four – or maybe more.

For a moment or two or three, I was back in high school and secretly reading my romance novels, knowing nothing about the industry or authors.

I’m not saying I want to go back because I don’t.  I just want to remember for a moment the way it used to be.

What about you? Do you miss those days?

- Sandy AAR

Romance Novel Covers: A Rant

coverThey’re like bad relatives.  You can’t avoid sleazy Uncle Bob or foul-mouthed Cousin Betty, because Uncle Bob married to Aunt Emily (the loveliest auntie in the world), and Cousin Betty is sister to Cousin Mark (who’s like a brother).  But you’d really, really prefer not to have to see them.  Ever.

Give a romance detractor a romance novel, and I’ll bet that nine times out of ten, they’ll look at the cover and grimace.  Hell, give a romance reader the same book, and you’ll probably get the same reaction.  So much for not judging books by their covers, but really – really, can you blame them?

Creamy bosoms and hairless tanned chests.  Serifs gone mad.  Florid colors.  And the clinches – oh, the clinches.  Shudder.

Let’s ignore the fact that they’re totally generic.  Hey, romance is a genre book, and all genre books, to a certain degree, are generic.  That’s the point, so that readers can spot them from a mile away, and go, “Oh, a romance/sci-fi/fantasy/mystery novel!”

And let’s also ignore the fact that there can be serious discrepancies between the cover models and the characters.  How many plus-sized, curvy heroines are depicted like Nicole Kidman?  Or the blonde heroes, drawn with black hair?  We’re told that black hair and thin women sell; I’d argue, but there are worse crimes, so I’ll leave it there.

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Fun With Romance Titles

I’m willing to go a few rounds with anyone who criticizes romance novels. Usually they haven’t read any, and have no basis for their criticism that they’re all the same, or they’re female porn, or – well, whatever. But sometimes I have to admit that certain titles invite a snicker or two. When someone asks you what you’re reading, do you really want to answer “Guarding the Notorious Lady?” That particular title is easy to pick on because a) I just read it b) It wasn’t very good and c) as another reader pointed out, the lady in question was not at all notorious. I told Scarlett (my daughter and fellow reviewer) that the title was probably from the Random Romance Title Generator.  “Is there such a thing?,” she asked. “If not, there should be.”

Actually, I think we did do one before, but time and conventions have marched on, so we’re probably due for another one.  Choose one part from each list, mix and match, and let the titling begin!

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Speaking of Audiobooks: Anne Stuart Interview and Ruthless Giveaway (Contest Closed)

Anne StuartRomance readers have enjoyed Anne Stuart’s books for years with many of her titles sitting on countless DIK shelves.  My own list of Stuart DIKs includes A Rose at Midnight, The Devil’s Waltz, and Ritual Sins.   More recently I’ve discovered yet another way to enjoy Anne Stuart’s writing by listening to her books in audio with Black Ice and Ruthless heading the list of my favorites in that format.

For those of us always wondering about the inner workings of the audiobook industry, I think you’ll find that Anne is uniquely qualified to talk with us today.  Not only does she understand much of what goes on behind the scenes, but she also appreciates what we, as audio listeners, want to hear.

To celebrate the ongoing audio release of Anne’s Rohan series, we are giving away two audiobook copies of Ruthless, the first in the series, courtesy of the author and AAR.  Place your name in the hat by commenting on this column by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Friday, February 11th.  Due to the cost of postage, the giveaway is open only to listeners in the U.S. and Canada.  We encourage multiple comments, but you will only be entered in the contest once.  If you review for another Web site or blog, please refrain from entering.  The winners will be notified by email on Saturday morning and you will have 24 hours to respond.  Another winner will be selected on Sunday morning if a winner has not responded.  Now, let’s talk with Anne!

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Stuart’s Coat, Sara’s Spectacles, and Jessica’s Glove

glovesI’ve been thinking lately about what is it about some writers that make their books magical for readers in ways that others aren’t.

First, a confession: I read contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and paranormals, but historical romance was my first love and remains my absolute favorite.  So, with my bias fully admitted and setting aside the continuing gush of wallpaper historicals in which you can’t even tell the time period a book is supposedly set in unless the author tells you, there are some talented writers out there I’ve come to admire and who have become auto-buys for me.  Still, the ones I’m watching have yet to come up with one of those scenes.

I’m talking about those hit-you-in-the-heart scenes. The kind you remember. The kind you share with other readers who very often respond “Yes!” The kind that make you feel what the characters are feeling.

I love the scene in which Bobby Tom realizes that Gracie made an “X” over his heart in Heaven, Texas.  Equally, the “you are my Egypt” scene from Connie Brockway’s As You Desire has to rank as one of the greatest declarations of love in all of romance. And I’ve sighed since I was 14 over the scene in Devil’s Cub in which Mary attempts to break up hotheaded Vidal’s sword fight by stepping in the middle of the action. Vidal’s reaction makes Mary realize for the very first time that her spoiled and haughty Devil’s Cub really loves her.  I felt it too and I will never forget the first time I read it.

But, for me, three scenes stand out that perfectly exemplify just what I’m talking about.

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