50 Shades of Readers

VanGogh woman reading“All sentences are not created equal,” Jenny Davidson tells us in Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. Her tale is not so much about “which books must be read than about how to read.” Her main conversational point is the “sentence, sometimes the paragraph, its structure and sensibility, its fugitive feel on the tongue.” In other words, Ms. Davidson is talking about the value of a book derived not from the book’s life lessons or even overall cohesive tale but its structure – the beauty and efficacy of its prose. Continue reading

The Hachette vs. Amazon Battle: Quality vs. Quantity

book-and-firecrackersIn the battle between Hachette and Amazon, Hachette and those who support it have based their argument upon two simple “facts”. The first is that Amazon is too big. A retailer that large is dangerously close to being a monopoly (or so they say). The second is that Amazon, with their (evil) devotion to pleasing the costumer will destroy the quality of books. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – Back to the Classics

seventearsforapollo This month’s TBR challenge, reading one of the classics, had me scratching my head for a little bit. Did I want to reach for one of those books that could be considered part of the romance canon(to the degree we have one), or did I want to pick a classic trope or author? In the end, I decided on Seven Tears for Apollo. When we start talking about old school romantic suspense or gothics online, certain names tend to pop up. Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels – all have their fans. However, Phyllis Whitney is one of those names that seems to be mentioned almost as an afterthought.

I’ve read a few Phyllis Whitney novels, all historicals, and I did enjoy them. However, I had yet to read one of her contemporaries and so I gave this one a whirl. Written in 1962, it captures a world that for 21st century readers feels like a curious blend of old and new. Continue reading

Hachette vs. Amazon: Show Me the Money

Blam-Pow160I am no Amazon fangirl. In April 2013 I blogged about my concerns when they took over Goodreads. On the other hand I have what is probably an unhealthy attachment to my Kindle and I visit their site several times a week vis-à-vis books. Amazon seems to be one of the few companies aware that the book world is changing and certainly acts interested in helping readers navigate that world. They not only provide new books cheap but help you get old books and books from overseas. While I may not want Amazon to take over the book world, I certainly want them to be a large part of it. Continue reading

Remembering Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart died this month at the age of 97. As the author credited for creating the romantic suspense genre she leaves behind a tremendous legacy in the world of books. Even though she hasn’t published since 1997, her novels are still being read and sold to this day. Among her most popular franchises is her Arthurian Legend series that begins with The Crystal Cave and ends with The Wicked Day. Those novels have a special place on my keeper shelf but it is her lovely, gothic suspense books that have always held the strongest place in my heart.

Back in my tween reading years I spent a lot of time with Ms. Stewart and her compatriots Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. My grandmother had given us a large stack of their books (we got the rest from the library) most of which featured a young woman on the cover running from some medieval style stone structure in her nightgown. One can only assume the cover artists had no knowledge of the books since I can’t remember this scene happening in a single one of them. What I do remember is the bright, inquisitive heroines fighting for justice and falling in love along the way.

Stewart’s heroines especially were far from delicate violets. They travelled to amazing places like Greece and Vienna and the Canary Islands. They jumped right into adventures, they solved mysteries and they had harrowing brushes with death along the way.  They were well written, intelligent women who knew how to deal with the problems life threw at them. I’ve read all her books and while I didn’t love them all I found them all to be easy, enjoyable reads. I was especially delighted when I was able to borrow a copy of the elusive (and expensive) The Wind Off the Small Isles in order to finish off her list. It’s a short tale about a find on the Canary Islands which is of value only to a handful of people. A bit different from her usual work but it did contain her trademark descriptions of the location.

That is where Ms. Stewart really stood out – her descriptions of the exotic places her heroines travelled.  Her approach was unique; many writers wall paper their locales on, giving us mentions of a few important landmarks and then focusing on their story. Others write a travel brochure leaving you with the feeling that at some point you might want to visit. Stewart somehow made you feel like by reading the book you had visited; she captured the sights, sounds, scents. She didn’t just tell you about the major tourist attractions but took you down back alleys and through windmill filled fields to give you the full sense of the place. You met the natives; you learned the customs. Reading a book by her was like going on vacation with her characters. You felt it all.

Before telling you my favorites I thought I would let a couple of other AAR staffers who also loved her share with us what they found special about her work.

Linniegayl: My mother introduced me to Mary Stewart and I have some wonderful memories talking about my favorite books with her. I link my desire to visit Greece for the first time to my favorite Stewart, The Moonspinners. While I haven’t been to Crete yet, the first time I glimpsed one of the Greek windmills on Santorini it brought back all my images of The Moonspinners. As an adult, I shared my love of Mary Stewart with my teenage niece, and the two of us read The Moonspinners and My Brother Michael while on a trip to Greece. The settings come to life in those books (as well as my third favorite – This Rough Magic.) The Gabriel Hounds! How could I forget that one! I remember being so shocked when we discovered the secret about Aunt Harriet. That was another great Stewart in an exotic location. And I think one of my first romances.

Lynn: Oh, I loved Mary Stewart’s books! Nine Coaches Waiting is a special favorite of mine. I just loved the way she created her settings and the eerie gothic mood of her stories. I also liked that her heroines were intelligent and that they actually went out and did things rather than just passively sitting back while things happened to them.

Maggie: My two favorites are Airs Above the Ground which includes the famous Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School and has a wonderful secondary character in Tim Lacy and Rose Cottage, a mystery which has a happy surprise at the center of it.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite novels about this author? Who introduced you to her? What did you find special about her work?


Maggie Boyd

TBR Challenge: Lots to Choose From

midnightangel Today we’re taking a little break from the RT author interviews for May’s installment of the TBR Challenge. For this month’s adventure through the TBR pile, I went looking for a book by an author represented multiple times in my stash of books waiting to be read. I’ve read a lot of Lisa Kleypas, but I still have plenty of her books in the TBR. The Russian angle of her 1995 historical, Midnight Angel appealed to me, so I decided to give that one a whirl.

Though the heroine is Russian, most of the book is set in England as we are treated to a governess and employer romance. Early on in the book, we as readers learn Tasia’s big secret.
She is actually a Russian aristocrat in disguise who has fled the country as she has been sentenced to death for killing her betrothed. Tasia has no memory of what happened to the man or whether she may have harmed him, but she is determined to live. Conveniently, she has relatives in England who give her a new identity and find a place for her as governess to Lucas(Luke) Stokehurst, Marquess of Stokehurst. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – Modern Love

returntotomorrow When I saw that this month’s TBR Challenge category called on us to read a contemporary romance, I found almost an embarrassment of choices. Did I want to go mainstream or inspy? Small town or big city? Something serious or more chick lit in tone? In the end, the setting drew me into Return to Tomorrow, a 2010 re-release of a 1990 title.

The premise of this novel is definitely not run of the mill. The characters were all shaped by their experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and even 20+ years on, the author shows how the war affected them. Rachel McKendrick spent years in a prison camp in Laos, and not surprisingly, has a lot of emotional issues to work through. After her rescue, she never intended to return to the region but a promise made to a priest she respected deeply brings her to a refugee camp.

There she meets Brett “Tiger” Jackson, a man with a dangerous reputation. Tiger fought in the war and has stayed behind working a variety of shadowy jobs and living among a trusted group of expats who, like him, never could quite return home after the war. Rachel’s brother back home knew and trusted him, but on the ground in Thailand, he has a reputation as a dangerous drug smuggler. There is obviously more to him than meets the eye, but readers are only slightly ahead of Rachel in learning this. Continue reading

Music of the Soul

writing-arts-fountain-penRita Dove said that “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” I totally agree with that. Whether it is painting a beautiful picture or capsulizing an ugly truth, a poem is language used in simplicity and beauty to help us see what can often not be captured by the naked eye.  A favorite poem can say a lot about love, about life, about the author but it also tells a bit about the person who loves it. Here are a few of the AAR staff’s favorite poems: Continue reading

Roses are red, violets are blue. Like love poems? Here a few.

love lineBefore romance novels there were love poems. Sometimes sweet, sometimes tender, sometimes raunchy but always intimate and direct. Most love poems are from the author to a specific lover, a genuine communication that wasn’t necessarily intended for commercial  consumption.  That authentic, sincere emotional communication can often capture the essence of love in far fewer lines than a romance novel. And it does so in such a way that it lingers on the mind and tongue in a way that a book often doesn’t. Continue reading