Midweek Minis

When Good Earls Go Bad: A Victorian Valentine’s Day Novella by Megan Frampton is a quick read and one I’d recommend to anyone who likes frothy, fun historical romance. Ms. Frampton is a reliably strong writer and in this novella she strives for and achieves an archly humorous tone. Each chapter starts with a maxim from the fictitious A Belle’s Guide to Household Management. In general, they cracked me up with insights such as “A housekeeper is similar to a man (even though she is always a woman!): She needs to know everything about a particular subject without ever having to do it herself.” and “Cleaning out the house is not the same as being cleaned out, even though by the end of the former your enthusiasm for the task might be the latter.” The heroine, Annabelle, is on the ditzy side and she’s just what the rather uptight hero, Matthew, needs to set him on a path to happiness. Their story is short and sweet and, once finished, forgettable. Grade: B.

Broken Open by Lauren Dane is not the book for me. I am in the minority, however. On Amazon, this book has almost 100 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Perhaps it’s my current apathy toward rock star romances, but I just couldn’t finish this story which features a hunky rock star turned rancher and his brother’s girlfriend’s best friend. I read half of it, intrigued by its interracial romance but couldn’t finish it. Ms. Dane writes excellent sex scenes and she does a good job here of showing the pain of a self-aware recovered addict. Despite those pluses, this novel fell into my DNF pile where it languishes still. Grade: DNF.

In for the Kill is the last McClouds and Friends adventure by Shannon McKenna. It has less WTF than several of the recent books in this series, which is not necessarily a good thing. The heroine of this book, Sveti, first appeared in my favorite book in the series, Extreme Danger, as a child kidnapped by VERY BAD PEOPLE. In that book, Sveti fell in love with the heroine’s brother who is–somewhat to my disappointment, not the hero here. Ex-cop Sam Petrie is. He’s a typical McKenna hero–obsessed with fucking the heroine, brutally honest, and able to fight his way out of constant over-the-top violence. He’s a jerk but, honestly, he’s the winner in the story. Sveti is a TSTL heroine who makes such silly choices that after Sam saves her life for the third time, I wished he hadn’t. Grade: C-.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh. I know I said I’m not that into rock star romances but I did like the first book and a half in this series by New Zealand author Singh. I thought this would be another tale about a member of Schoolboy Choir, the world famous super band featured earlier in the first two books. Sadly, it is not. The hero of this book is a very bossy CEO who decides to romance his shy and retiring employee. She has a traumatic past and he charms her right past it. This is one of these books where I liked both the leads individually far more than I liked them as a couple. The book is full of great one-liners and vivid descriptions but, as a love story, it didn’t rock my world. Grade: B-.

Time Served by Juliana Keyes left me ambivalent. On the one hand, this story of reunited high school lovers is sexy as hell and does a great job of illuminating the challenges of a cross-class relationship. (She’s a successful lawyer; he’s an ex-con out on parole who works at warehouse stacking pallets.) On the other hand, the hero, Dean, is so angry he’s scary and the heroine, Rachel, seems to hate all the other women she knows. Additionally, over and over again, Dean does shitty things to Rachel even as it’s clear he loves her as deeply as he is able. Time Served riveted me–I read it in one sitting and I’ve thought about it several times since I finished it.  If you like gritty contemporaries, this one fits the bill. But if books with morally ambiguous characters bother you, stay away from Time Served. Grade: B.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan is the first thing I’ve read by Ms. Milan that didn’t work for me. I am an unabashed fan girl of her historical romances and was sure I’d love her foray into modern times. I didn’t. To be fair, this is a New Adult romance and I like those even less than I like rock star romances. But even allowing for my non-propensity for NA, this book fell flat for me. The heroine, a dirt-poor pre-med student at Cal Berkley, is so precocious and perceptive that she seemed far older than 20. She’s determined to make a better life for her Chinese parents and her younger ADHD sister and thus has no time for gorgeous billionaire boys who have the hots for her. In fact, the hero, Blake (his father is the CEO of one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies) irritates the hell out of Tina mostly because he’s seemingly so clueless about his wealth and the extraordinary privilege it affords him. So when Blake offers to switch lives for the rest of the semester, Tina doesn’t believe there’s a chance in hell he’ll be able to live in grinding poverty. The novel features Ms. Milan’s usual stellar prose but the story seemed forced. And while it was nice to read a book where being a billionaire is presented as a character flaw rather than a synonym for uber-sexy, I felt the moral message of the book swamped the story. Still, there is much to admire here. Tina’s roommate’s sexuality gender identity (she’s transsexual) is presented matter of factly and well, as is Blake’s emotional baggage. The lives of the Chen family and that of Blake’s father are interesting and enhance the plot. But the romance lacked credibility and the plot flew off the handle in the concluding chapters. I’m always interested in what Ms. Milan writes but this book is perhaps my least favorite of her works. Grade: C.

Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Dabney AAR, Mini reviews, Romance reading | 14 Comments

Winsome or Loathsome: Daphne Bridgerton

Welcome to our new column, Winsome or Loathsome. (I was rooting for Dreamgirl or Disaster but was outvoted.) Like its counterpart, Dreamboat or Douchebag, this column will look at well-known heroines and ask the pointed question: Winsome or Loathsome? We will reserve our critique for heroines who are not universally loved or who are known for behaving badly at some point in their stories.

We at AAR have defined elsewhere what each thinks are the characteristics of a good heroine. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves the Happily Ever After she gets.

Does Daphne Bridgerton?

Daphne is the oldest girl and third child of Violet and (the deceased) Edmund Bridgerton. Daphne’s story, The Duke and I, is the first in Julia Quinn’s wildly popular Bridgerton series. Daphne certainly ends up with the life of her dreams: She marries one of her older brother Anthony’s best friends, a handsome Duke named Simon with whom she has five children. (She is not the most prolific of her siblings–her brother Gregory ultimately has nine children.) Daphne is, like most of Ms. Quinn’s heroines, self-deprecating, smart, and kind. She is a warm friend and a loyal and devoted sibling. And yet there are many who feel she is at the very least morally iffy and at the worst morally despicable.


Well, if you haven’t read the book and want to be surprised, stop reading now.

Still with me? OK.

When Simon and Daphne meet as adults, Simon makes it crystal clear to Daphne he has no intention of ever marrying anyone. Despite knowing that, Daphne lures Simon into the gardens where he compromises her. This causes her brother to challenge Simon to a duel which Daphne stops–right before the men begin–and begs Simon to marry her. Simon reluctantly agrees but makes it clear to Daphne that he will never have children. Here is what he says:

“I can’t have children.”

There. He’d done it. And it was almost the truth.

Daphne’s lips parted, but other than that, there was no indication that she’d even heard him.

He knew his words would be brutal, but he saw no other way to force her understanding. “If you marry me, you will never have children. You will never hold a baby in your arms and know it is yours, that you created it in love. You will never—”

“How do you know?” she interrupted, her voice flat and unnaturally loud.

“I just do.”


“I cannot have children,” he repeated cruelly. “You need to understand that.”

Despite this, Daphne, who loves him, tells him she wants to wed him. She says to him, “You’re worth it.

Daphne, like many a girl of her era, is clueless about sex. Her pre-wedding day chat with her mother, though hilarious, fails to educate her. Thus, when she begins having a passionate sex life with her husband, she has no idea that his use of the withdrawal method, has anything to do with the childless future he said they’d have. However, a few weeks into her marriage, a candid chat with the housekeeper at Simon’s ancestral home suddenly makes it clear to her that Simon is choosing not to have children. She is furious and, after accusing him of taking advantage of her procreative stupidity, she locks her bedroom door against him. Simon goes out and gets thoroughly soused. When he comes home, he begs Daphne to stay with him as he falls asleep. She does and, an hour later realizes Simon is sporting an erection despite being asleep and inebriated. She makes a decision.

Daphne felt the strangest, most intoxicating surge of power. He was in her control, she realized. He was asleep, and probably still more than a little bit drunk, and she could do whatever she wanted with him.

She could have whatever she wanted.

As Simon sees it,

Daphne had aroused him in his sleep, taken advantage of him while he was still slightly intoxicated, and held him to her while he poured his seed into her.

By the novel’s end, Simon has not only forgiven Daphne, he is grateful to her for pushing him to get past his anger at his awful father (He vowed to never have children to spite his dad.) and is happily trying to make beautiful babies with her. Simon and Daphne are known as “most besotted couple” in the ton and they adore their kids.

So AAR, what do you think? Is Daphne Winsome or Loathsome?

LinnieGayl: It’s funny, when I read that Daphne was the first choice for this new series I was puzzled: I honestly couldn’t remember what Daphne had done that was so awful. It’s been years since I read The Duke and I but remember liking it, and being excited that it was part of a series. After reading the recap, I now remember what happened, but am still hazy about my reaction to it on first reading. I recall being angry with Simon, thinking that he deliberately hid the truth from Daphne. She was very naive, and was horribly hurt when she finally figured out — with help — that it wasn’t that he “couldn’t” have children, but that he “wouldn’t” have children.

So yes, on reflection, what Daphne did was wrong, but what Simon did to her was awful as well. Do these two wrongs cancel each other out? Probably not. But in the end, I know that at the time of my first reading I came down much more on Daphne’s side than Simon’s. I suspect a large part of my “tolerance” of what she did has to do is with the time of the story. Would I be so accepting in a contemporary? Perhaps not. But on balance, I come closer to placing Daphne a hair on the side of the Winsome side than on the Loathsome side.

Cindy: I remember being thrown by this scene but then I bring my own baggage to the table.  As someone who married a man who told me we might not be able to have children, it was something I had to consider.  In the end he was correct and even though I knew it was more than likely true that we would not have children when we married, we both still had hope.  So there was my frustration with the HEA of a situation that is very real to people in all previous times in history.  Even with the medical help today there is no guarantee.  Now, take the scene as it is and yes, it’s rape.  There are romance books with the plot point of the hero not taking the heroine to bed because she is too intoxicated – why would we accept that a heroine has a different choice in the same example?

Furthermore, Daphne took away Simon’s choice – because even though this is a historical and yes, children were important, this didn’t give her the right to decide she was right and Simon was wrong.  Not only that, she did what would make her happy and that is not what love is supposed to be about.  In the end, both characters were selfish and made horrible choices and even though the story ends with them having a bunch of kids and being known by all as a loving couple their story is not all that romantic. What’s interesting is that with everything I’ve said, this book is one of my keepers.

Maggie: I second what Cindy said re Daphne took away Simon’s choice – because even though this is a historical and yes, children were important, this didn’t give her the right to decide she was right and Simon was wrong.  Not only that, she did what would make her happy and that is not what love is supposed to be about. ” More Loathsome than Winsome to me for sure.

Lee: It’s been awhile since I read The Duke and I so I’m just going by Dabney’s summary and what everyone else has contributed.  I think in this particular story, both parties were in the wrong.  Simon obviously didn’t tell Daphne why he couldn’t have children but he must have known that being a mother was the second most important position (after being a wife) a gentlewoman aspired to in their time.  As for Simon going out and getting drunk and then begging her to sleep with him, well, what did he expect would happen?  So I’m not absolving Daphne of blame.  Both Simon and Daphne needed to communicate a LOT more than they did, but obviously if they had, the story would have been totally different.

Anne: I’m like LinnieGayl. It has been so long since I read any of these books that I couldn’t remember what Daphne did wrong. I kept looking at the list of heroines, wondering if it was a misprint. One of Julia Quinn’s heroines in this list?

Now that I’ve read the piece, I remember the story, but I still don’t remember what I thought of her actions at the time. It might have been a feeling of growing horror, knowing that she would be sorry. I had a similar feeling when the heroine of an Amanda Quick story spilled wine on the hero’s bedsheets to make him think he had already taken her virginity so that he would stop trying to seduce her — although that wasn’t as bad as what Daphne did. What Daphne did reminds me more of Joanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire, only at least Daphne didn’t kidnap Simon and chain him to the bed.

In both cases, the heroines had pressing reasons for their actions, and I understood them. Yes, Daphne wanted a child, and it was dumb forr Simon to deny her that, and to deceivee her. But still… Yes, the heroine of Prisoner of My Desire needed to get pregnant with an heir fast or lose everything. But still… Our teachers used to remind us “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It feels weird to learn that those old sayings can still be true. At least in our books. Then again, if our characters realized that right away, our books would often be really really short.

Caz: I’m a big fan of the Bridgertons and I remember this and the next book in the series being among the first HRs I read, so for that reason alone I have a soft spot for them. But even then, when I hadn’t read many romances at all, Daphne’s actions didn’t sit well with me. I suppose one could argue that what she did by having sex with someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t consent was the same thing that many husbands did regularly with unwilling or uninterested wives , although of course that doesn’t make it right, either.

Looking at it from a more dispassionate point of view, I’m not a fan of misunderstandings and miscommunications in romances. It’s a frequently used device, and the more I read them the less I like them on the whole, although some authors make it work better than others. But this is one of those times when the couple should have had a bloody conversation! The way Ms. Quinn writes Simon’s objections – he “can’t” have children – is suitably ambiguous, because of course what he’s saying is not that he’s incapable, but that he’s unwilling. Semantics of course, but had he said “I will not have children” it would have prompted the conversation which would have rendered the plot-point used to create the break-down of their relationship late in the book completely redundant.

To my mind, that’s lazy plotting and I’m sorry to say that I’m probably more annoyed about THAT than I am about the way the character behaves, because ultimately her actions are dictated by the needs of the plot. The fact that she clearly wants children perhaps mean that her actions are not completely out of character, but there’s no denying what she does is stupid and, as others have said, tantamount to assault.

Much as I love this series and wanted the couple to get their HEA, I can’t call Daphne a “Winsome”. What she does is stupid and selfish; she wants what she wants and doesn’t even think about the consequences, not just the obvious physical ones, but the effects such actions could have on her marriage.

That said, I can’t completely condemn her as “Lose-some” either, because she genuinely loves Simon and he has to bear some of the responsibility for her failing to completely understand his refusal to have children. I put her actions down to naivété more than anything else, because Simon is so intractable and doesn’t explain his reasons fully which means that she has no way of knowing how deep-seated his fears are and thus thought that when presented with a fait-accompli, he’d come around and forgive her.

I’m going to have to sit on the fence on this one, although I suspect I’m more inclined to the Lose side of it than the Win one.

Dabney:  I am not a Daphne fan. I don’t think there’s any way to interpret what she does to Simon as benign. The scene where she “steals” his seed from him is beyond icky and, to me, unnecessary. It seems so obvious that with time and communication she and Simon would have ended up with the same HEA the book gives them. I can’t feel good about the way Daphne behaves no matter how much she–and Ms. Quinn–justify her actions. Daphne gets the thumbs down from me.

Readers, what do you think?




Posted in Characters, Dabney AAR, Heroines, Winsome or Loathsome | 38 Comments

a Pandora’s Box: Karina Bliss’s Rise

Acclaimed literary biographer Elizabeth Winston writes about long-dead heroes. So bad-boy rock icon Zander Freedman couldn’t possibly tempt her to write his memoir. Except the man is a mass of fascinating contradictions–manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic and morally ambiguous. In short, everything she seeks in a biography subject. When in her life will she get another chance to work with a living legend? But saying yes to one temptation soon leads to another. Suddenly she’s having heated fantasies about her subject, fantasies this blue-eyed devil is only too willing to stoke. She thought self-control was in her DNA; after all, she grew up a minister’s daughter. She thought wrong. 

Rock star Zander Freedman has been an outlier–many would say an outcast–for most of his life. But there’s no disaster he can’t overcome, from the breakup of his band to the inevitable damage to his reputation. His Resurrection Tour is shaping up to be his greatest triumph–if his golden voice holds out. Contracting a respected biographer is simply about creating more buzz. Elizabeth’s integrity is the key to consolidating his legacy as one of rock’s greats. All the damn woman has to do is write down what he tells her. Not force him to think. Or encourage the good guy struggling to get out. And certainly not make him fall in love for the first time in his life. Turns out he is scared of something: being known. 

(from the book’s Amazon page)

Dabney: I, like many, were excited to see a new book by Karina Bliss. And, is it just me or are there a lot of kick ass romance writers in New Zealand? Bliss, Nalini Sing, Jackie Ashenden… Anyway, I love Bliss’s What the Librarian Did–it’s about the brother of the hero of this book–and looked forward to reading Rise. I liked Rise but I didn’t love it.

LinnieGayl: To say I was excited to learn that Rise was available for download would be an understatement. What the Librarian Did is one of my favorite, most memorable romance reads of the past five years. I couldn’t imagine how she would turn Zander into a hero, but she did. I not only liked Rise, I definitely loved it.

Dabney: I too really like What the Librarian Did, more than I like Rise. I think I am inherently less interested in rock star heroes now. That may be part of why this book didn’t rock my world.

LinnieGayl: it’s funny, because until a few months ago I would’ve said I would never read a romance about a rock star. What could possibly be romantic about that? And now two New Zealand authors have sucked me into to believing in a romance with a rock star. The first was Nalini Singh’s Rock Addiction, featuring a very sweet younger rock star. In contrast, there’s absolutely nothing sweet about Zander. He’s led a hard life, done all kinds of bad things – including those he did to his brother in What the Librarian Did. But despite his past, I fell for Zander in Rise, and came to believe in his romance with Elizabeth. And speaking of Elizabeth, what did you think of her character?

Dabney: Sigh. I really wanted to like her more than I did. I appreciated that she is smart and determined to be in control of her life. But the way she felt about Zander was, for much of the book, almost, well, trite. Over and over again she was bowled over by his physical beauty. I kept thinking that a hero who saw the heroine this way would annoy me.

LinnieGayl: Okay, finally back after a long pause in which I actually reread huge parts of the book to re-check my feelings about Elizabeth, and they haven’t changed. I still like her. You’re definitely right that she repeatedly thinks about how beautiful he is, and those feelings never go away. But she’s also very smart about it and initially wants to avoid falling for him just for his appearance. When she finally gets involved with him sexually, she’s still learning about his personality, and definitely wants to keep it physical. I think for me, she sees him initially as a gorgeous, seriously flawed man, and gradually comes to appreciate so much more. And of course there’s the fact that they did have the online conversations about her books before she ever knew who he was; so she knows he’s also smart.

Dabney: I do love the whole band concept–it’s better than the brothers concept because with a band, the guys can come from any background, race, religion, class, etc… So, I’d have to say–because I do enjoy Ms. Bliss’s work–I’m up for all the guys to each get his own story. I always love reunited couple love stories and that looks as though that will be Jared and Kayla. I’m totally up for that.

LinnieGayl: I agree about Jared and Kayla; I think there’s will make a great story, and the same goes with most of the guys in the band. I’m also very interested in seeing more of several of the women in the book, most notably Zander’s assistant Dimity, and his executive housekeeper Philippa.

Dabney: The book was a fun read for me, just not a great one. I did enjoy the humor, something at which Ms. Bliss excels.

LinnieGayl: Ms. Bliss does excel at humor. And for me, it’s definitely a great read, and a completely unexpected DIK. Ms. Bliss managed to turn a hero I thought I would hate into someone I really enjoyed. I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Dabney: I’d give it a B with the caveat that if you like rock star romances, I’ll bet you’ll love this book.

LinnieGayl: It’s a definite A- from me. I think you’ll like it even if you don’t like rock star romances.

Readers, have you read it? And, tell us what other rock star romances you love.

Rise is available at Amazon (click here) and other sellers.

Posted in Dabney AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Pandora's Box | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Poll Results Page… in case you missed it!

Best 2014 Romance Novels
Best Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Best Contemporary Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James

Best Romantic Suspense

River Road, Jayne Ann Krentz

Best Paranormal Romance Shield of Winter, Nalini Singh
Best Romantic Science Fiction The Kraken King, Meljean Brook
Best Romantic Fantasy Fiction The Winter King, C.L. Wilson
Best Historical Romance Set in the U.K.Honorable Mentions Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Rogue Spy, Joanna Bourne
Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James
The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan
Best Historical Romance Not Set in the U.K. My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Funniest Romance It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Biggest Tearjerker My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Love Scenes (in a Mainstream Romance) TIEHonorable Mention Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran
It Happened One Wedding, Julie James
Rock Addiction, Nalini Singh
Best Category Romance Mr. (Not Quite) Perfect , Jessica Hart
Best Erotica/Romantica Having Her, Jackie Ashenden
Best Romance Short Story A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, Cecilia Grant
Best LGBT Romance Think of England, K.J. Charles
Best Debut Author Sonali Dev
Best Young AdultHonorable Mention Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie PerkinsThe Perilous Sea, Sherry Thomas
Best New Adult The Hook Up, Kristen Callihan
Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements A Grave Matter, Anna Lee Huber
Best 2014 Characters
Best Romance HeroHonorable Mention Duncan West in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLeanThorn Dautry in Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James

Best Romance Heroine


Honorable Mention

Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgiana Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Most Tortured HeroHonorable Mention Alastair de Grey in Fool Me Twice, by Meredith DuranFlavian Arnott in Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh
Most Kickass HeroineHonorable Mentions Frederica (Free) Marshall in The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney MilanGeorgina (Chase) Pearson in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, Sarah MacLean
Kate Daniels in Magic Breaks, Ilona Andrews
Catherine Blade in My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Best Romance Couple Sidney and Vaughn in It Happened One Wedding, Julie James


Posted in Annual Reader Poll, Best of List, Polls | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Annual Poll Results for Books Published in 2014 are in!

Yes, the results of the Reader Poll for Best Romances of 2014 are in. Click here to see the list of winners and go to the accompanying article to see author comments.

The Annual Poll at AAR is a cooperative endeavor between readers and staff, and this year’s poll is no exception. Largely based on reader comments, we tinkered with the categories for this year’s poll. We separated two former categories into three: Science Fiction, Paranormal and Fantasy. We dropped the Best Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction category and added Best LGBT Romance. We’re happy with the results for all of these new categories, and you’ll see them again in next year’s poll.

This year’s poll had 24 different categories. On average, readers voted in 12 categories, but 5 percent of you voted in 20 or more of the categories. The most popular category was Best Romance Novel, with 90% of you submitting a title. But over three-quarters of you also voted for Favorite Hero and Favorite Romance Couple.

We frequently receive comments – either in the forums, the blog posts, or in the actual poll – that readers do not like the “Best Kick-Ass Heroine” category, suggesting it should be dropped. This year over 70 percent of readers cast a vote in this category, suggesting that while some dislike the category (or the label), many readers know exactly what the category means, and have a ready choice for a winner.

At this point in our polling history we can safely say we have created enough categories to cover the paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy genre. In previous years there were many overlapping titles when we just had two categories but this year, with three categories opened, there was little if any overlap. Approximately 65% of readers cast a vote in at least one of the three categories, while 19 percent of readers voted in all three categories. We did receive a few comments about Steampunk romances, expressing either uncertainty about which category the book fits into, or asking for a separate Steampunk category. We’ll try to clarify the situation next year.

Two of the new categories last year – Best Young Adult Romance and Best New Adult Romance – each received a vote on approximately 30 percent of your ballots this year.

We appreciate your thoughts on the poll, and included a place for you to list your comments along with your ballot. Many of you simply thanked us for running the poll, or expressed your enthusiasm for the process; we love the poll as well and appreciate your comments.

Some readers suggested changes to the poll, or the polling process, and we would appreciate your thoughts. One reader suggested,

“For the Best Historical Romance set in the U.K., could you break this into two categories: Best Regency Romance and Best Romance set outside the Regency time period?”

Several other readers noted that they miss the Best American Historical/Frontier category and asked if we would bring it back. The category was dropped several years ago both in an effort to streamline the poll, and to eliminate categories that generated relatively few votes. Is it time to reconsider this category?

We were delighted to see many first-time voters submit a ballot this year. But after polling at AAR for over 10 years, we’ve also come to recognize, and appreciate, the efforts many longtime AAR readers make in entering the various polls at AAR. Nearly 20 percent of the voters noted that they have voted in AAR’s annual Reader Poll for five or more years. Thank you!

As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the poll. Look for another poll next year at about the same time.

Cindy, LeeB, and LinnieGayl



Posted in All About Romance, Annual Reader Poll, Best of List, Cindy AAR, Lee AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Polls | 15 Comments

Two New Categories Are Open in our Special Titles Listings

Now that we’ve revised the more popular Special Titles Listings, we are left with a number of the smaller categories that appear to be less in demand, but still interesting to some. So as we open them for new submissions, we considered these lists among ourselves, wondering what is attractive and what is less attractive about them.

For the Love of God is a list that suffers from the fact that titles which fit here are not so easy to spot. Many of the romances featuring characters for whom religion plays a major role are firmly anchored in the inspirational arena. They tend to center on the Christian faith and the main protagonists’ relationship with God, and actually this relationship is of equal importance as the actual romance. In many of these romances great emphasis is placed on a character being “saved” by his or her renewed faith. This is all well and good, but to find these titles any reader just needs to peruse the catalogues of publishing houses specialised on inspirationals.

On the other hand, romances which feature heroes and heroines for whom their faith is important, but not to such a marked degree, are scarce. Pickings are equally slim when looking for protagonists who practice Judaism, Hinduism, Islam or other faiths, depticted in a realistic manner – not in the manner of the typical Sheikh Harlequin Presents! There are also hardly any romances that deal realistically with the issue of inter-faith romances, and the difficulties that may arise with such a union.

In the contrary, most mainstream romances are agnostic in their approach: Religion is hardly ever mentioned, and if people go to church at all in the story it’s worth a single sentence. While this avoidance of religion works in contemporaries, it can add to the wallpaper-y character of many historicals, as religion played a huge role in almost everybody’s lives right down to the 1960s, and it’s appropriate to see this reflected in novels set in earlier periods.

So what we’re asking you to nominate for this list are romances that are not inspirationals, but still feature protagonists who work in the field of religion – of any faith – and/or for whose life religion – again, any faith – plays an important role. If you can, please indicate who the religious character is and what role religion plays in his or her life.

The Scots & Irish Romances list is one that smacks of a holiday: Escape to the Emerald Isle, or the Highlands, and enjoy whisky, tartans, and quaint pubs with live music. What’s not to love here? But fewer romances of this sort have been published recently than in the past, and we can only speculate why. Possibly the traditionalistic approach to both nations is no longer in tune with the modern societies these countries are in reality? Possibly fewer authors want to tackle the brogue? Possibly with the greater generational distance of many US readers from their immigrant ancestors, there is felt to be less interest in these countries? No matter why, we still love romances set in Scotland and Ireland, and hope that with Outlander on TV last summer, there may even be an increased interest in these particular settings.

If you nominate titles for this list, we’d like to ask you to indicate whether a romance is Scots or Irish – we want to point this out with the little icons that you can see in the list.

This is the last time around we are only opening lists we haven’t revised so far. Starting next month, we plan to mix some of the remaining lists with lists that we started our work with three years back, and for which you submitted so many books then. And once more, thanks so much to our readers, without whom this work would not be possible. We are looking forward to your submissions! You will find the criteria and submission ballot here. The lists will remain open until Thursday, March 5, midnight.

Rike Horstmann, LinnieGayl Kimmel and Cindy Smith

Posted in Cindy AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Rike AAR, Special Titles Lists | 10 Comments

TBR Challenge: You’ve Just Got to Read This

throughtheevildaysFirst things first – since a couple of people emailed me to ask about it, I figured I’d go on and post my confession. Why yes, I did indeed screw up and forget to post my TBR post last month. In my defense, TBR day was the day before I had to go out of town to take my child to the hospital for a major medical procedure so I may have been a tad distracted. However, I’m back on track now and since I’ve been dying to read the book I chose for this month’s TBR challenge, luckily it actually fit the theme of books recommended by others.

I honestly don’t remember who was the first to recommend Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ van Alstyne series to me. I know Rachel Potter and Jean Wan here at AAR have raved about these books, as have posters on our message boards and various other bloggers I read. And I have to say that I agree with them. These books are fabulous. Spencer-Fleming gives readers good mysteries, but more importantly, her characters are intelligently written and over the course of the 8(so far) books in the series, she takes readers through a complex relationship arc. The history between Episcopal priest Clare and police chief Russ requires both characters and readers to wrestle with some tough questions, but the more I get to know these characters, the more I care about them even if some of the dilemmas they wrestle with make me uncomfortable on occasion. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Reading | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Fifty Shades the Movie: Blythe’s Take

Fifty_Shades_of_Grey_1Okay, everyone and their dog has weighed in on this one, whether it’s because they saw it, didn’t see it and didn’t think anyone should see it either, or are waiting until it comes out on DVD so they can save their hard earned money. I for one, was looking forward to this for weeks. Maybe months. I knew precisely how I wanted to see it: In a theater full of women, with my girlfriends. A theater where you could drink. That’s precisely what I did, and it was awesome.

Most of us have have HDTV and we’re all busy with work, school, kids, and life. I genuinely like going to the movies for its own sake and always have. However, I go much less frequently than I used to. But with something like Fifty Shades, there are compelling reasons to experience a movie socially. There are ways it can add to your experience and make it unforgettable. I will never forget watching Crimson Tide in a dollar theater in New Orleans with everyone shouting at the screen. Or seeing Disturbia on an opening Friday in a theater full of teenagers. It all becomes part of the experience. For me this meant hooking up with Mel, Jackie, and two peartinis, merlots, and chardonnays respectively (peartinis for me). We actually had horrid seats right in the front behind a group of women who had clearly pre-gamed; they were way drunker than we were. I can assure you that this only added to the experience, which is what we told them afterwards when they apologized.

In my opinion, this movie should be interspersed with frequent giggling and probably some catcalling. Random people shouting “Yikes!” and “What?!?” are also helpful. For some reason I can’t really explain, Mel and I giggled uncontrollably every time they shot the front of Christian’s building, which said “Grey House”. We just found it funny. I get that some people take this seriously, and I don’t have a problem with that. For me it works best as farce, and I very much enjoyed it on that level. All three of us had read the book; Mel and Jackie read all three, and I made it through two. So we knew what we were getting into.

As for the nuances of the movie itself, I can talk with some authority on that, too. First off, I was surprisingly impressed with the cinematography. It’s well shot, and it’s pretty to look at. My personal feeling is that it elevated the original material (which I suppose is my way of saying it was better than the book, which I personally find to be terribly written). Visually, you get a compelling picture of what seduction and desire look like. Close up shots of lips, eyes. Things you focus on and notice. That worked well. The movie also neatly side-stepped my person pet peeve about the book – Ana’s lack of email address. In the movie her computer in on the fritz, so she doesn’t have to act all wide-eyed like she’s never seen one before. And not only was the “Laters, Baby” was kept to a minimum, we also didn’t have to hear Ana’s irritating inner monologue about her inner goddess with the “Holy Crap” this and the “Holy Shit” that. I also liked that Ana looked about like you’d picture her – like a somewhat uncertain college student who hadn’t fine-tuned her fashion sense. She looks twenty-two, and she has a great body that doesn’t seem to glorify an impossibly thin ideal.

Christian is pretty easy on the eyes himself, and I could buy him much of the time. But every time he said the really hardcore stuff? Giggles. Uncontrollable giggles. “I don’t make make love. I fuck…hard.” Yeah, right. I am pretty sure it’s the former. I don’t know how he said it without laughing himself.

At the end of the day, if you’re a fan of the book I think you should see it. If you want a fun social experience, go see it, and bring your friends (other women. This is a girl thing. Thanks, Mel and Jackie). I think peartinis and chardonnay also enhance the experience, but your mileage may vary. If you have seen it, what did you think? And what were you hoping for? If you haven’t seen it, can you think of other movies you watched in a complimentary social setting? I’d love to hear about that too.

Laters, Baby.

Posted in AAR Blythe, Movies | 17 Comments

Four Special Titles Listings revised

When we collect nominations for the Special Titles Listings, usually we greet the individual submissions with an affectionate moan: We love the new titles, but we grumble a bit at the work of looking up the books online, preparing the new entries, possibly even browsing through them to make sure they fit the category.

This time around, there was a change: Because we opened the lists just before Christmas (we might have known …), there were very few submissions at first. We panicked a bit, and went off to nominate some books ourselves.

In my (Rike’s) case, this meant literally walking up and down my bookshelves, browsing through the titles and desperately trying to remember where there was a full-figured heroine, or a guardian who fell for this ward.

After I’d stopped panicking it was actually a rewarding exercise. I opened some books I hadn’t had a closer look at in years, and rediscovered some oldies. In addition, I impulsively bought some Harlequins at their Christmas sale just because it looked like they fit one of the categories, and read them over the New Year. And won’t you believe it, with Cat Schield and Sarah Mallory (whose latest books, incidentally, fit our categories just perfectly!) I discovered two new-to-me authors whose backlists I am definitely going to pick up. In case you want to know the details: Cat Schield’s Because of the Baby is a lovely romance between two in-laws, taking care of a baby niece while their siblings, the baby’s parents are absent or incapacitated. And Sarah Mallory’s Never Trust a Rebel is a charming Georgian historical set in the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion and featuring a guardian and his ward. I recommend both!

Then there was the irony of working on the Plus-Sized Heroine list during one of the most indulgent, delectable, edible times of the year. Which is then quickly followed by resolutions of strict diets and maniacal exercise regimes. As much as the idea of loving our curves has been making it’s way into the odd ad campaign we have to admit it would be nice to see it expand in all media, including romance books. Thankfully there are authors out there writing stories about women who struggle with their physical bodies and those women who love themselves as they are and although the additions to the list are few, we hope they will satisfy.

And then the holidays were over, and you, our readers, came through. The Guardian/Ward nominations remain few as well, but you pointed out a great number of books to us that fit the All in the Family and the Twins categories, and sometimes both. Thanks for the wonderful sumissions!

We hope you will enjoy the newly revised lists, and pick up some fabulous new titles for your reading. And watch this space on Friday for some new lists to be opened!


- Rike Horstmann, LinnieGayl Kimmel and Cindy Smith

Posted in Cindy AAR, LinnieGayl AAR, Rike AAR, Special Titles Lists | 5 Comments

Our Favorite Romantic Films

2015-02-013There’s an obscure little film called Fifty Shades of Grey out for Valentine’s Day–today!– this year. Maybe you’ve already bought your tickets. Maybe you’re waiting to see it on Netflix. Maybe you’re waiting until hell freezes over. While we do have some staffers who are planning to see it and write a review, in the meantime, here are some favorite romantic films AAR staffers have already seen and can enthusiastically suggest for a romantic night in.

Caroline: I think nothing sets the mood like laughing together, so I pick Bridget Jones’s Diary. This movie has great one-liners, a fantastic cast (someone finally let Hugh Grant have some fun!) and a really lovely core relationship in which Mark Darcy falls in love with Bridget – just as she is.

(Side note: I floated this question to my husband, who promptly nominated Happy Gilmore. I said, “Why am I even married to you?” Then he said, “Oh, wait, can I suggest a miniseries? Because that latest Jane Eyre (Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens) was awesome.” Ah, that’s why.)

LinnieGayl: I’m going with a pair of movies: Beauty and the Beast (Disney version) and La Belle et la Bête (1946) (Cocteau). I saw the Cocteau version years ago in a college French lit class and it made a huge impression. I didn’t think I’d like the Disney version, but when my niece was little she could convince me to watch anything, and I fell in love all over again, so much so that it became a family Christmas Eve tradition. What’s particularly romantic about both versions for me is that our heroine manages to see through the ugly façade of the Beast and fall deeply in love with his inner beauty.

Anne: Dang! Somebody beat me to La Belle et la Bête! :) I even have the two-disc edition of the French version with the commentary. Although some of the commentary takes the fun out of the movie, especially when they criticize the heroine’s acting. The behind-the-scenes stuff is great, though. Did you realize it was almost impossible to find clean white sheets in postwar France?

Haley: I think my favorite romance movie (although it’s actually a mini series) is North and South by the BBC. There is just nothing that compares to the gorgeous Richard Armitage being madly in love with his lady. I have seen it so many times.

My favorite Rom-Com is the French film I Do (Prête-moi ta main) because it is really silly and yet heartwarming at the same time. It has some really zany moments that make me laugh and I was totally rooting for the couple the whole time.

I also second the vote for the first Bridget Jones’s Diary because what is there not to love about Colin Firth and Hugh Grant tussling in the street?

Mary: North and South is also in my top 10 romantic movies of all time. I absolutely love this movie and have watched it at least 10 times. Sometimes, I just put in the DVD and fast forward to all of the best parts. One of the best romances was Firelight with Sophie Marceau and Stephan Dillane. Then there are the two most recent adaptations of Jane Eyre and the series and movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. The girls in my family get together periodically to watch romantic movies, and last year we watched The Outsider (based on Penelope Williamson’s novel) with Naomi Watts. The only problem with romance movies is there are not nearly as many of them as romance books

Lee: I’m going to go with While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. She falls in love with Peter Gallagher, who doesn’t really know who the heck she is but then he is injured and she rescue him and he falls into a coma. There are so many fun scenes with Sandra Bullock’s boss and her landlord’s son as well as lovely family scenes with Bill Pullman’s family. My favorite scene is when he gives her a snow globe of the city of Florence.

Heather: My favorite romantic movie is Dirty Dancing. I distinctly remember seeing it in the theater and having the sudden realization that boys were not “yucky,” not at all. It’s infinitely quotable, but my favorite line comes from Baby: “And most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.

Bessie: I always remember And Now My Love  (Toute Une Vie) from 1974. It ends with the couple’s meeting– the story arc of the film is how both their pasts going back two generations brought them together.

Maggie: I’ve done a few blogs on favorite movies, notably one about buried treasure romance films and another on favorite teen romance films. Sadly, the only new film I’ve added to my lexicon of beloved romance movies since then is About Time. This sweet movie is about geeky Tim who is “too thin, too tall, too orange”. When he becomes a barrister in London, a night out with a friend has him meeting Mary, an ordinary girl who seems extraordinary to him. When a time travel glitch tears them apart Tim expends all efforts in getting her back and creating an extraordinary, ordinary life with her.

Jenna: I don’t think I can pick just one for my all-time favorite romantic movie. If I did, it would probably be one of the Austen’s – either Pride and Prejudice (either Kiera Knightly or Jennifer Ehle version) or Sense and Sensibility, so I won’t go with the obvious. I will say that my favorite swoon-worthy romantic movie may have to be Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. Who doesn’t just want to melt when Hawkeye tells Cora “Stay alive! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you.“? It’s like an historical romance novel come to the screen. My favorite doomed romance has to be Shakespeare In Love with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. My heart just broke at the end when they had to part forever. And my all time favorite sweet romance has to be Disney’s Tangled. I don’t care if he is animated, I just fell in love with Flynn Ryder!

I think my favorite epic romance might be Baz Luhrmann’s Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. I thought this was one of the most underrated movies – it didn’t get great press nor do very well at the box office, I believe. But the chemistry between Nicole and Hugh was white hot. Also, the story is absolutely one of enemies to lovers, which I always love when done well. All of it set in a time period and location that should be used in romances more often – Northern Australia at the beginning of World War II. It truly is an epic story, spanning several years. I cried more than once and – SPOILER ALERT – the moment when the Drover realizes that Sarah is still alive….swoon!!

Caz: I’ve never really noticed this before, but my film-watching tastes are rather different from my reading ones, as I’m not a great fan of romantic movies. Perhaps it’s because the ones I’ve seen have been disappointing – I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I suppose it at least didn’t mean that I had hundreds of favourites to choose from for this post; in fact I’ve got just two from the last few decades. I agree that While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman is wonderfully romantic without being sappy, and both leads were perfect in their roles. I also loved the warm and slightly crazy family dynamic that is everything Lucy never had and something she longs for as much as she longs for someone to love her.

My other favourite is When Harry Met Sally. Friends-to-lovers is a trope I generally like in books, and this one is the queen of the crop. Smart and Funny is my catnip, and this has both in spades.

Other than that, I go back several decades to the great movie couples of the 30s and 40s – perhaps not romances, but definitely romantic, I can watch The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, His Girl Friday, Bringing up Baby and others of their ilk until the cows come home.

Blythe: I feel like my favorite romantic movies have shifted as I have gotten older and my life has changed. There are always oldies but goodies – I mean, I NEVER get tired of the A&E Pride and Prejudice, which I think was total perfection. But of the last decade, my favorite has to be The Holiday. Granted, the Jude Law factor is huge for me. But I also like that they are adults who have had relationships before, and I find myself relating to Cameron Diaz. Now, if I could also relate to her gorgeous Los Angeles home and ability to pack up on a whim and go to a cottage in Surrey for Christmas, that would be kind of nice.

Dabney: That’s a challenge… there are so many good choices. (Love stories are my favorite kind of film.) My current favorite is probably Notting Hill, which was the second big hit from Richard Curtis. (The first was Four Weddings and a Funeral which I would love a lot more if it were Three Weddings and a Funeral and the Hugh Grant character had ended up with the lovely if “Duck Faced” Henrietta. I also love About Time and most but not all of Love Actually, also from Mr. Curtis.) My favorite romantic tear jerker is The Way We Were which my husband can’t make it through without bawling alongside me. My favorite romantic comedy is Bull Durham which is also my favorite sports comedy. No one unsnaps a garter like Kevin Costner. (Second place: Moonstruck, the only film I ever found Nic Cage attractive in.) My favorite teen romance is Say Anything, the film that made John Cusack a star and began Cameron Crowe’s illustrious directing career. Lastly, my favorite oldie but goldie is The Sound of Music.

Melanie: I’m not much for romance movies, honestly – I’m more an action girl. If I had to pick some of my favorites though, I’d have to start with The Princess Bride – how can you not? It’s got the epic love story, the action and the comedy, and just enough cheese to make it delicious. I absolutely adore The African Queen – it’s kinda a romance, right? Katherine Hepburn wins every time, and I loved Bogart in his role. I also second the vote for the 1993 Much Ado About Nothing (though I did enjoy the more recent Joss Whedon adaptation). The couples had such great chemistry, and nothing beats Kenneth Branagh chewing the Shakespearean scenery.

Meanwhile, a friend is trying to convince me that Kate and Leopold wins for best romantic comedy. My vote is torn between French Kiss (the only Meg Ryan movie I really love. I think it’s because of Kevin Kline) and The Proposal (Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds? Yes please! also, I love the age difference, and how it’s not actually a big part of the story line. It’s just an accepted thing. That seems kinda rare when the woman is older than the man.)

For the epic feel, though, I will always watch and rewatch and cry at Last of the Mohicans. The sweeping majesty of the scenery and the score don’t hurt! :)

Lynn: I think Sense and Sensibility is probably my favorite romantic film. It’s hard to pick just one movie, but this is one of the few that completely swept me away on first viewing. That moment when Colonel Brandon sees Marianne for the first time…you can almost feel the longing come off the screen.

What do you all think? Are your top choices on here, or are there great romantic movies we missed? Given a choice, would you prefer a night in with an old favorite or a night out seeing something new?

Caroline AAR

Posted in All About Romance, Caroline AAR, Movies, Romance | Tagged | 30 Comments