Sarah MacLean: The RWA15 Interview

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a historical romance writer in possession of a great wealth of talent, must be taken seriously by The Washington Post. Except, historically, the WaPo, like much of America’s serious press, treats romance writers rather like boxed wine: Something never to be publicly praised even if, upon occasion, she imbibes with gusto.

At least that’s how The Washington Post used to treat romance. These days, The Grey Lady publishes a monthly column about romance. And for that we must thank Sarah MacLean.

I’ve interviewed Sarah before and enjoyed it every time. She’s funny, fearless, and feminist. She laughs a lot. She loves Romanceland. When her publicist at Avon asked if I’d like to check in with her at RWA, I of course said yes.

Dabney: Hi! So to begin, tell me about your new book.

Sarah: The Rogue Not Taken is my first in my Scandal and Scoundrel series. I wanted to do a series about celebrity gossip with a historical twist. My editor said, “Like the Kardashians?” And I said “Yes, just like the Kardashians!” Interestingly, celebrity gossip really does translate. In pre-Victorian society reputation, scandal, and gossip were so important. One’s reputation was everything. I spent a lot of time thinking about it.

I knew the first scene would be my take on the Jay Z, Beyonce, Solange Met Gala scandal from two years ago. (Solange punched Jay Z in the elevator.) I wanted to know what happened. So, I came up with what I thought might have happened and my heroine became the Solange character who caused the scene and she has to run. She stows away in the carriage of a handsome future duke and it becomes a road story.

Dabney: Have you ever done a road story before?

Sarah: No. It’s hard. Road trips are tough. You spend a lot of time asleep in an inn. You have to do a lot of work so you’re not always sleeping in an inn. It’s fun because there are so many characters—there’s always new faces at the inn.

Dabney: How many books are planned for the series?

Sarah:  The Scandal and Scoundrel series will be a trilogy. They’re linked by the theme of scandals.

Dabney: Will readers recognize the scandals?

Sarah: If they read US Weekly, yes.

Dabney: What’s your favorite recent scandal?

Sarah: Right now I’m very sad about Bennifer. We were friends in my heart. I did think to myself: How would I write that? It’s tough to write a reconciled marriage.

Dabney: Will you ever go back to the world of the Love by Numbers and Rules of Scoundrels world?

Sarah: The heroine of The Rogue Not Taken was in Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover. To some extent, it’s all the same world.

That said, this series is much more romp than the last series. I think readers will enjoy it.

Dabney: When did you start writing?

Sarah: I published my first book in 2009. I wrote it on a dare. It’s titled The Season and is a historical YA.

Dabney: If you were going to give your younger self a word of advice what would it be?

Sarah: Don’t worry so much.

Dabney: Thanks. It’s always a pleasure.


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Lisa Kleypas: The RWA2015 Interview

When it comes to romance novelists, few are more storied than Lisa Kleypas. She’s been a beauty queen (Miss Massachusetts in 1985), a best-selling author (she’s written 38 books and four novellas), and is known for her warmth and charm.

I can attest to the latter. When Avon asked if I’d like to interview her at RWA2015, I gulped. Me? Talking to Lisa Kleypas? I feared I’d be starstruck and tongue-tied.

I was starstruck, but no tongue-tied. From the moment, she sat down, Lisa was lovely (She began by complimenting me on my jewelry and then moved on to telling me how much she adores AAR.) I felt at ease.

She answered every question I asked. Here, dear readers, is our conversation.

Dabney: What’s next for you and when will it be out?

Lisa: The next is Brown Eyed Girl, out August 11th, and that’s my last Texas contemporary. My first historical in five years will be Cold Hearted Rake, out October 27. I’ve been pleased and surprised by the level of enthusiasm for that!

Dabney: What’s it about?

Lisa: An irresponsible sexy rake unexpectedly inherits an earldom that is a wreck. The estate comes with three young women. He has to dig deep into his character in order to become a man who can take care of them and the estate. It’s an extreme character arc. The heroine is the widow of the late Earl. She is young, high spirited, and constantly pushing him to be a better man. He softens her and brings out a playful side and she pushes him to be more of grownup.

Dabney: What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

Lisa: I’d read a lot of recent historicals in the past five years and I didn’t see as much historical detail as I typically write so, at first, I struggled how much historical detail to put into the book. I decided to put in as much as I wanted. That is part of the joy of writing it for me. I didn’t want to write a contemporary with long dresses!

Dabney: What book have you read lately that you enjoyed?

Lisa: A John Wayne biography. It was fascinating. I never realized how handsome he was as a young actor and how he used this to get parts in his youth. It was exciting to read because it’s hard to get male characters right. I try to absorb things like that.

Dabney: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Lisa: Don’t try to be such a pleaser.

Dabney: Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t asked?

Lisa: Just that I’m thrilled to be writing historical romance again. Cold Hearted Rake is the beginning of a series called The Ravenels. It’s set in a later Victorian period than I’ve ever tried before. This affects the book quite a bit because of the settings I can use. The second book is set in a department store!

Dabney: Thanks so much for talking to me.

Lisa: It was fun!


Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Interviews, Publishing, RWA | Tagged | 10 Comments

The Fabulous Dreamers at RWA

RWA 20151Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The 2015 Romance Writers of America conference is brimming with women–and a few men–who do just that. Rarely have I been surrounded by so many people who speak openly, joyously, and determinedly about making their dreams reality.

I have spent the conference with authors. I’ve interviewed some of the greatest names in the field–Eloisa James, Julie Anne Long, Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Sophie Jordan, Sarah MacLean and others. (I’ll be sharing those interviews with you beginning on Monday.) I’ve listened to Virginia Kantra, Laura Florand, Jessica Scott, and Carolyn Crane talk–over wine and dessert–about how they publish and what they’ve learned. I’ve talked to writers waiting for cabs, publicists and editors at parties, and aspiring authors in the absurdly long lines for the bathrooms at the conference hotel. I’ve been to a doughnut party and listened to Joanna Bourne discuss the impact of Twitter on the writers of tomorrow. It’s been author, authors, authors, and it’s been the best thing ever.

Again and again, I’ve been struck, awestruck, by the willingness of these women to pursue their dreams. Last night, at dinner, I sat across from a lovely woman who struggles with physical conditions that leave her routinely terribly depressed. When she feels crazy, she said, she puts on the music from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice and listens to it repeatedly until she finds a saner place. She’s at RWA this year, for the first time, because, on top of having a day job, going to real estate school, being a mother of three and a wife, she writes YA romance and she’s determined to be published. She is here, in New York, pursuing her dream.

I ask authors when they began writing and most say, “I’ve always written.” For them, the dream hasn’t been writing–that is something so innate it’s rather like breathing. No, the dream has been to publish–whether traditionally or not–so they may share their stories with others. Following this dream has meant living on four hours of sleep a night for years, receiving rejection after rejection, and repeatedly learning new skills–Scrivener, self-publishing, digital rights… the list is endless. They do whatever they have to do to make their dreams come true.

It’s awesome.

It’s intimidating.

It’s flipping amazing.

Yoda was wrong. To do is to have tried and succeeded. This week I’ve seen joy on the face of writer after writer who tried, succeeded, and are trying still. Today is the last day of the conference and tonight is the RITAs, the awards ceremony where RWA recognizes the best books of the year. But no matter who wins the statues, everyone I’ve talked with this week wins my respect. It’s a group of kickass dreamers. If Mrs. Roosevelt is right, the future is in fabulous hands.

Dabney Grinnan


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RWA – Thursday

CKo6iu7WUAAV3QMThe first full day of RWA is in the books. Lynn, Dabney, and I have been busy observing, reporting, tweeting, and okay…celebrating.

One change this year is that there are no luncheons; the sessions with featured speakers are breakfast sessions in the morning. Undoubtedly a cost-cutting measure, and I am not sure whether it is a permanent shift or if they are just trying it out. All of us missed it Thursday because we were invited to breakfast the the Simon & Schuster Offices – for booklovers, that was pretty cool and a major perk of having the conference in New York. Incidentally, there do seem to be a lot more men milling about at this conference than the one in say, San Antonio. Don’t get me wrong; this is a very female dominated industry and there are far more women than men – just more men than usual. We were trying to decide whether half of them were husbands and boyfriends who find New York more alluring than say, the South in July, or whether there are more men breaking into romance writing. I will note that the only time my ex came to RWA with me was when it was here last time, despite being invited along to other places. There is, after all, something for everyone in New York.

As far as emerging conference trends, after sitting through a few publisher spotlights it doesn’t seem to be substantially different from last year. I’m still hearing “the paranormal market is soft but we’ll look at a funny one.” Although I would say that New Adult seems to be a little less white hot. I always like the point in spotlights when an aspiring author asks editors what they are personally looking for. Sure, many times you’ll just hear, “I can’t get enough alpha bad boys!”, but sometimes, like yesterday, someone enthusiastically supplies, “Virus in a submarine!”

Since I have personally been a little less connected to books this year (and in fact, fielded more than one “Are you still writing for AAR?”) this has been an opportunity to reconnect with longtime conference friends and really talk books in a fun way. Also, I sort of can’t shut up about my own real life romance, so there’s that. But because it’s so fresh in my life I’ve heard a lot of other people’s love stories. And it’s good to know that love in alive and well among romance writers, bloggers, and industry professionals. Also, more than one woman at this conference has seen Magic Mike XXL.

What’s up for AAR today? Lynn and I will continue tweeting publisher spotlights. Dabney has been accumulating a treasure trove of author interviews, so stay tuned for that as well. And at night? Well, probably more than one cocktail (perhaps accompanied by an impromptu discussion about love, man buns, or both).

Posted in AAR Blythe, All About Romance, Book news, Books, Publishing, RWA | 4 Comments

RWA 2015 – The Conference Begins

20150722_181549 (720x1280) I got a slower start than I wanted, as my planned 6:00 arrival in NYC didn’t actually occur until after 11:00pm. However, one night of sleep later, I was raring to go to the conference! I love RWA for a variety of reasons. On a personal level, I enjoy visiting with some of my AAR colleagues and folks in Romlandia that I only get to see once a year or so. On a professional level, the energy at RWA is contagious, and I am not only able to gather news about authors and publishing trends, but things I hear at conference tend to percolate in my mind and influence my writing for some time afterward.

The literacy signing was its usual mix of interesting and overwhelming. The ballroom this year felt a tad cramped, but I think most of us were still able to find some good books and chat with authors. I did pick up a few interesting pieces of news along the way:

Sherry Thomas reported that she has a YA proposal in the works (fingers crossed!). She also told me that she was working on historical mysteries, but that they probably would not be out until next year. And historicals? Sad to say, I’m told that it will probably be a while before she has any new historical releases. Continue reading

Posted in Book news, Book Signing News, Lynn AAR, Publishing, RWA | Tagged , | 9 Comments

RWA (and AAR) is in the Big Apple!

One of the most fun parts of Romancelandia is the annual Romance Writers of America conference held each year in July. Last year it was in sweltering San Antonio and this year, still sweltering, its attendees are in New York City.

I arrived here on Sunday afternoon and spent the afternoon walking and sweating profusely. My phone claimed it was a measly 96 degrees–I’m sure with the heat of the traffic and the asphalt, it was well over 100. But who cares? This is New York, a city where you can find just about every kind of activity you can imagine.

I’m here a bit early because my eldest son lives here now and this is the first chance I’ve had to visit him here. (First mom job: Buy him a second set of sheets and a few more towels–he has just one of each.)

Blythe and Lynn arrive on Tuesday and then it’s a whirlwind of panels, interviews, dinners, parties, and awards. Yes, we know, it’s a rough gig.

We wish you were here too. Since you aren’t–and we are–we’d like to hear what you’re interested in. Is there a question you’re dying to ask your favorite author? Let us know what it is and we’ll see if we can ask her. Wondering where your favorite sub-genre is heading next? We’ll see if we can find out for you. Want snaps of the hot cover models? Well, we’ll do our best.

Use the comment section below to share your requests. We’ll be reporting over the next week.


Dabney, Lynn and Blythe

Posted in AAR Blythe, Dabney AAR, Lynn AAR, Publishing, RWA | 14 Comments

The Wrong Man

NicholasHigginsThe first time I fell in love with the wrong man, I was a teenager, and the man was Victor Laszlo.

Now, Laszlo is only “the wrong man” by weird convoluted cinema logic. He’s been thwarting the Nazis across Europe for years; he’s articulate, bold, dedicated, noble, loyal, and let’s face it, a heck of a lot better looking than Humphrey Bogart. That’s a good man by any standards. He’s only “wrong” in the sense that he’s not the perfect match for Ilsa. Which is fine. Stay with Rick, Ilsa. I’d be more than happy to help your husband rebound.

I thought of Laszlo when I was rewatching North and South and found myself once again in love with the wrong man. Richard Armitage as John Thornton is universally acknowledged as a heartthrob, and I do understand the heroine’s attraction to him. I think Thornton is a great match for Margaret. But Nicholas Higgins, played by the marvelous Brendan Coyle (better known perhaps as Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey) steals the series for me.

Beyond romance, Thornton’s primary struggle is keeping his business afloat. That’s fine, and I appreciate that he has a reputation as a fair and honest employer. But that’s not heroism; that’s basic decency and basic economics. I can understand Margaret being impressed, contrasting him with other owners who are happy to gamble the payroll or skimp on safety equipment. To me, though, it’s like finding a historical hero who has bathes regularly and has reasonably straight teeth: historically unusual, but something I as a modern reader simply expect from a man. Plus, this is all undermined by the fact that the Thorntons (and all the masters) clearly still aren’t paying actual living wages for the people, including children, doing the physical, dangerous work.

At one point, Thornton proposes that his workers form a canteen to save money on food and volunteers an unused mill building as the location. This is unusual behavior for his position, sure. But the catalyst, and the man who does the actual work, is Nicholas Higgins. Nicholas’s honest answer about his family’s poor food situation inspires Thornton to consider his workers’ meals. Nicholas organizes the canteen; Nicholas’s daughter does the cooking. When Thornton later eats with his workers, it’s because Nicholas reached out and invited him. What’s more impressive: refusing to be ashamed of poverty and organizing a factory full of workers to pay into and dine in a restaurant, or owning an empty warehouse?

Thornton also educates a promising young orphan – the boy that Nicholas took in and cared for when his parents died. It’s pretty clear that finances are the only thing preventing Nicholas from having the boy educated himself. The child’s father, by the way, ruined Nicholas’s strike. But Nicholas promised that the man’s children wouldn’t go hungry, and he’ll keep that promise, even if it means humbling himself to beg for work when the strike leaves him unemployable.

Nicholas is an intense, complicated, thoughtful man. He struggles with religious faith (“I’m not saying I don’t believe in your God, but I can’t believe He meant the world to be as it is.”). He is a loving father who found his ill daughter work in Thornton’s safer mill but didn’t take it for himself. He is forgiving, accepting Margaret as a friend after her earlier snobbery and developing a friendship of sorts with Thornton after Thornton has treated him very poorly. Despite being uneducated, he’s clearly intelligent and hard-working, the sort of man who will rise high enough to hit his head on any glass ceiling and might make it through anyway. I can see him a few years down the road being a national union figure or a Member of Parliament.

And on top of that, you know what? He’s hot. Nicholas Higgins was rocking his dad bod before it became a thing. His voice is wonderful, and his face is extremely expressive.

You can have your Thornton, Margaret. I think he’s a nice match for you. But I’ve got my eye on that union firebrand living behind the Golden Dragon pub.

What about you? Have you ever been watching or reading a romance and found your attention wandering to a man who wasn’t supposed to be the hero? Do you think I’m utterly crazy in my love of Victor Laszlo and Nicholas Higgins, have I won you as a convert, or were you on my side all along?


Caroline AAR

Posted in Caroline AAR, Characters, Heroes, Television | Tagged | 24 Comments

TBR Challenge: Lovely RITA

mrsdrew July’s prompt was to read a book that had either won or been nominated for a RITA award; Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand won the award for Best Regency Romance back in 1995.

As she does in so many of her books, Carla Kelly imbues a serious story with humour, warmth and tenderness, and writes a pair of engaging central characters whose flaws only make them seem that much more human.

Roxana Drew was happily married for a number of years, bearing her husband – a clergyman – two daughters before he became seriously ill. For the last few years of his life, he was a bedridden invalid, and Roxana nursed him cheerfully and tirelessly. Six months after his death, she receives a very unwelcome and unpleasant proposition from his older brother, Lord Whitcomb. He must appoint another to the living which means that Roxana and her daughters – Helen and Felicity – will have to find another home. He suggests that they all move into his house, and that in return for providing shelter, Roxana should become his mistress, seeing as his own wife has absolutely no interest in the physical side of marriage and is unlikely to give him any children.

Roxana is naturally stunned and horrified by this suggestion, and realises that she must make alternative arrangements and make them quickly. When she is on one of her many long countryside walks, she comes across the uninhabited and somewhat dilapidated dower house on the neighbouring Moreland estate. She suggests to the bailiff that she could rent the property and help to renovate it – and he agrees. When Whitcomb finds out, he is livid, but with the help of the bailiff and a few of the estate workers, Roxana and her daughters very quickly move to their new home. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

A Guest Pandora’s Box: The Girl Next Door

Hello everyone and welcome to our monthly AAR blog column. The basic idea is we choose a book every month and have a discussion about it. We being Elisabeth Lane (of Cooking Up Romance), a long-time romance reader who now creates recipes inspired by books and then blogs about it, and Alexis Hall (author of, most recently, Waiting for the Flood), relative newcomer to the romance genre and occasional writer.

Today we’re going to be talking about Amy Jo Cousins’ recently released New Adult romance, The Girl Next Door.

Book 3 of her Bend or Break series, it can be read as a standalone, although it centres on Cash Carmichael, everyone’s favourite dudebro from the first book, Off Campus. Despite coming from wealth and privilege, he’s working a minimum wage job, coaching soccer to inner-city kids. Then his newly out cousin turns up on his doorstep, looking for advice, and this puts him back in contact with Stephany Tyler – his one-time bisexual-with-benefits.

In full disclosure, we should probably also mention that we both think Amy Jo Cousins is the bees knees. In other words, we both know her rather well on the Interweb and received The Girl Next Door from her as an eARC.

AJH: Well, this one was certainly interesting. How did you find it, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: I think it’s a very ambitious, risky book. And there were elements of it that really grabbed me and other elements that I didn’t love quite as much. How about you?

AJH: I think it went pretty much the same way for me. I mean, I love the way Amy Jo writes. I adore her characters and I’d enjoy pretty much whatever she did, simply because of her ideas and the way she approaches things (and people). But while I admire this book a lot and I think I can see what she was trying to do with it, it didn’t wholly come together for me the way, for example, Off Campus does. 

Elisabeth: I really enjoyed Off Campus as well and so I was eagerly awaiting Cash and Stephany’s book. The relationship between Reese and Tom in the first book was just so clearly articulated and slowly and satisfyingly developed. I think part of the reason The Girl Next Door didn’t work quite as well for me was that there’s a lot more going on here than just the relationship between Cash and Stephany.

AJH: Yes, I saw it as Cash’s book, way more than it was Stephany’s. I think what I found interesting was the way it’s … a male-centric romance in the same way that some romances are heavily focused on the heroine, with the hero being more an object or an outcome rather than a full participant in the narrative. So it was sort of like chicklit, in the sense of being primarily about this one character navigating their life, of which romantic fulfillment is just one part except it was about a guy. So … dicklit? Which, weirdly, might be why it feels lacklustre as a romance. 

Elisabeth: Okay, it took me a second to get over the laughing fit induced by “dicklit” but you make a good point. I tend to be equally frustrated with books that focus on the female protagonist to the exclusion of developing the romance so that was part of what I found difficult here. The other problem I have is that in Off Campus, I really, really loved Stephany and I…don’t have the same visceral love for Cash. So I felt a little cheated almost? Especially since the entire book is not only focused on his journey, but also told completely from his point of view, which is really odd for me in an m/f romance.

AJH: That’s really interesting, because most people are all Caaaaash oh Caaaaash! And, err, honestly I’m one of them. Or was.  I think it’s because amazing bisexual women are, y’know, fairly common in my life. Whereas straight men who are are completely comfortable with queerness are … honestly … still kinda rare. Which is not to say my dude friends all stand with their backs to the wall when I enter a room, but I am fucking painfully envious of the way Cash interacts with Reese. I basically want that for me. 

Elisabeth: That actually helps me understand why everyone is so in love with Cash. Because honestly, I didn’t really get it. He’s a jock. But so’s my brother. And he’s…well…a lot like Cash. I just didn’t see what the big deal was. Whereas Stephany just…she’s so brash! Romance heroines are not allowed to be that assertive usually and I love it. She’s kind of high maintenance and impenetrable with her commitment-phobia thing. It’s the reverse of what we see in a lot of romance.

AJH: I agree that Steph is not like a romance heroine is supposed to be, but she’s very like … many of the actual women I know? So, in that respect, she was familiar and I didn’t feel cheated by not getting more of her. But that might also be because we see her from a perspective that is familiar to me: from the outside. Not that I’m saying womenz are impenetrable aliens but while I definitely wanted more Steph in this book in general, I felt I had a very strong handle on who she was. And the slight sense of distance worked for me because it’s how I’m used to engaging with … err … women. God that sounds bad. But, as you say, it’s an unusual perspective to get in a romance novel.

Elisabeth: Yes, and I didn’t wholly dislike it. I was just a bit distracted by the novelty of it. One of the reasons I did appreciate that Cash-centric perspective is that it fits with the other books in the series. It’s mostly an m/m series, I think? And this is an m/f (and briefly m/m/f) departure in the middle. So the other books are all written from a male perspective. 

AJH: I also thought that was super-brave, actually. I love that the boundaries are starting to break down a bit between m/f and m/m. I think there’s always been a tradition in m/f of occasionally having your break out gays (Suz Brockmann, first and most famously, I think – but JR Ward and I can think of a few others) but I like the fact that Amy Jo has sort of flipped that dynamic. And there’s the fact Cash is the token straight guy among all these queers, which is refreshingly normalising. Instead of having the one gay guy in the Regency Bucks club or the one lesbian on the SWAT team or whatever. But I do wonder if some of the elements of The Girl Next Door that didn’t entirely work for me arose from the whole m/f in an m/m series context.

Elisabeth: Ooh like what?

AJH: I’m probably going to get tomatoes thrown at me for this … but the threesome?

Elisabeth: I had thoughts about the threesome too. It bothered me more the more I thought about it, actually. I really, really like Varun, Cash’s friend and coworker who joins Cash and Stephany for the threesome. In fact, I feel the same way about Varun as I did about Stephany in Off Campus–beloved secondary character for sure. So I was very pleased to see his character get developed a little bit in this book and I like that it further established Cash as a guy who would absolutely try anything for Stephany. But on the other, I felt it didn’t quite give enough in the way of character development for either Stephany or Cash to justify the page space since that was really something we already knew about Cash.

AJH: Basically, I agree. I liked Varun too but I felt he wasn’t developed enough to give that encounter any sort of charge. And, honestly, I don’t really know what Varun was supposed to get out of it. I mean, yes, they’re both hot and a threesome is a threesome, but his sexual interest in Cash seems to come out of nowhere. Or is bundled with this slightly unfortunate bisexuals-will-do-anything trope.

Elisabeth: This is where I go back to feeling like I might have liked to have a bit of Steph’s perspective. There’s a piece of the scene early on where Varun and Cash are talking about the potential threesome where I really wanted to know what Stephany said to Varun about how this was going to play out. Because I really had the idea that both Cash and Varun were sort of…in it for her. Like, maybe Varun wasn’t all that sexually interested in Cash, but just wanted to get it on with Stephany. I’m not sure whether that’s really valid or not, but that was how I read it?

AJH: Possibly. I mean, they do sort of spin the event as a goodbye treat for Varun so they must feeling they’re giving him something he wants and he responds like they are. But I just had no emotional context for it and I know sex doesn’t always need an emotional context but if someone came up to me and was all like “hey, dude, as a special favour, because I can tell you’re into me, I’m going to let you suck my straight boyfriend’s cock” … I’d honestly be slightly peeved. But Varun doesn’t have much of a role to play in the book as a whole so I was probably just over-identifying in the spaces, if that makes sense.

Elisabeth: Yes, it does. And for such a pivotal point, I thought it should have brought more of the story or the relationships together. Instead what we get is Varun leaving town for good, followed quickly by Steph and Cash having a bit of rough patch (though completely unrelated to the threesome, it’s worth noting I think–which could have gone a different way). 

AJH: Yes, even though it’s a lovely, sex-positive threesome and there’s no drama or angst at all, I just felt vaguely uncomfortable for Varun throughout. I kind of felt like his sole purpose here was to demonstrate Cash’s open-mindedness and/or Cash’s dedication to pleasing his girlfriend (in either case, basically to show to how awesome Cash is), which is kind of an awkward way to use a queer character relative to a straight one.

Elisabeth: Agreed. And while it seems to have been a positive experience for the characters involved, as a reader, I thought the whole thing seemed a bit superfluous.

AJH: Yes, exactly. I try not speculate too much about what motivates authors or spend too much dwelling on kind of the-book-that-isn’t-there (or the book of my own expectations) but I almost felt the threesome was there to increase the queer quotient, because there’s still not all that much overlap between m/f and m/m audiences. Honestly–and this might just be me being a pervert–but the I sort of realised on the bus the other morning (to the embarrassment of all concerned) that the scene I wanted there wasn’t a threesome. I wanted more Steph and Cash and … ideally I wanted a pegging scene. Like, it’s not something (in my admittedly limited experience) that’s written about a lot in romance and I’ve usually only seen it in a D/s context (with a male sub) – but given Cash’s enthusiasm for his ‘magic button’, his comfort in his masculinity and Steph’s adventurousness I sort of realised that they were one of the few romance-novel couples I could think of who could have that kind of sex without it being perceived as inherently about power and/or submission and/or emasculating in some way.

Elisabeth: That’s a really interesting observation. I didn’t think about it that way, but you’re right. The only time I’ve ever seen a pegging scene included in an m/f romance was in a D/s context. It’s almost like even within the realm of erotic romance, a menage is less “risky” than strap-on. Because it’s not the first time I’ve seen an author use a threesome where it easily could have been something else. And Cash does spend an awful lot of time thinking about his magic button and lecturing others about theirs, which wasn’t exploited much here.

AJH: Seems we are the founding members of the Royal Society for More Pegging in Romance.

Elisabeth: Do we get badges for that? I really hope we get badges for that.

But seriously, back to the threesome, I feel like we may be in danger of forgetting that this is New Adult romance. I would expect there to be some awkwardness surrounding how characters treat one another. So while I think Varun’s role in the threesome is awkwardly managed, it’s not entirely out of character for that to be the case. If this series is really aimed at an emerging adult audience, I suppose I’d rather see this scenario play out in a less-than-ideal way on the page than in someone’s real life.

AJH: Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Except I didn’t really get much recognition of potential awkwardness from the book itself. I mean, afterwards they’re like, “hey, Varun, we can use you again some time!” and he’s like “yay!” but, then, again, that could just come down the the fact is book is written in deep POV: it’s Cash, Cash, and only Cash, and he’s not always the most sensitive or aware narrator of his own life. So that makes it difficult to figure out, as a reader, the boundary between what the narrator is thinking/doing and what the our own responses/reactions should be, especially when you get to the deep stuff like race and sexuality and relationships between complicated people.

Elisabeth: And I do love how Amy Jo does complicated people. I think Reese, Tom, Stephany and even Varun have a better read on who Cash is at this point in his life than he does himself. Amy Jo manages to use that immaturity to show a really deep level of emotional intimacy between this group of close friends via how they interact when what they understand about each other that is still sort of mystery to each of them alone.

AJH: Yes, that’s wonderful. And I loved seeing Reese and Tom again. Much weepage. Amy Jo’s character work always delights me. 

Elisabeth: I really loved that The Girl Next Door was trying to do something different from nearly all of romance: the male POV in an m/f book, the m/f book in the middle of an m/m series, tackling challenging issues of sexuality and privilege head-on. It’s very refreshing to see a writer taking some really modern problems and situations and stretching boundaries. I haven’t read a ton of New Adult, but I like where this is going. And I can’t wait for Varun’s book.

AJH: Yes, all this. Very much all this. I have been so impressed with everything Amy Jo has done with this series. And while The Girl Next Door isn’t Off Campus for me, I still very much enjoyed it and very admired its scope and its originality and its courage. I think the next book is Danny and Rafi. But hopefully we’ll get Varun after that.

We hope you’ll join us in the comments below for more discussion of Amy Jo Cousins’ The Girl Next Door.

And if you want to read-along at home, next month we’ll be looking at: My Dark Prince by Julia Ross.


Elisabeth and Alexis


Posted in Guest Posts, Pandora's Box | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Best of 2015′s Romantic Suspense (Thus Far)

Each January the AAR Annual Reader Poll is a major event here, celebrating the best in romance published for the first time the previous year. And each year many readers do a lot of last minute reading in an attempt to find the “best” in various categories before the poll ends. We’re now at the halfway point in the 2015 publishing year, and thought it would be fun to do a series of posts earlier in the year, alerting readers to the “best” in various categories, and asking for suggestions for great reads we’ve missed out on. First up, is the Best Romantic Suspense published for the first time in 2015. As a reminder, last year’s winner was River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz.

So far this year, AAR reviewers have given a DIK to only one book classified strictly as romantic suspense title, Carolyn Crane’s Behind the Mask, while Laura Griffin’s Beyond Limits received a B+.  Two books first published in 2015 received a B- review here: Erica Spindler’s The First Wife and Jayne Anne Krentz’s Trust No One. The audiobook version of Nora Roberts’ 2015 The Liar also received a B+ here. And that’s it. So far, after six months, things are looking rather grim for our recommendations for the Best Romantic Suspense of 2015.

While I don’t read as much romantic suspense as I used to – preferring to either read straight mysteries or straight romance – I do like to keep up with the best in the category. I’ve personally read both Trust No One and The Liar and could vote for either one as my favorite romantic suspense of 2015.

I asked my colleagues at AAR for their favorite romantic suspense of 2015 and they came up with a number of great suggestions that did not appear in my search at AAR for romantic suspense (and some I’ve read and enjoyed). 

Lee Brewer has read a number of books she would label as romantic suspense, and recommends the following: 

Consumed by Fire by Anne Stuart (which continues her “Ice” series books)  

Fragmented by Stephanie Tyler.

The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley.

Lee also commented that she’s looking forward to the following releases later in the year, all of which she feels would fall under the broad category of romantic suspense:

Shadow Fall by Laura Griffin (release date 9/22)

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (release date  9/1)

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig (release date 8/4)

Caz seconded Lee’s recommendation for The Other Side of Midnight, commenting that “it’s terrific.” (I should add that I listened to it in audiobook and found it outstanding).

Dabney reminded us that Debt, by Nina Jones, received a B+ in a midweek mini review. 

Maggie suggested another book featured in a midweek mini review, Minutes to Kill by Melinda Leigh. Maggie also read and enjoyed Circumstantial Evidence by Lisa Clark O’Neill, giving it 5 stars on her Goodreads account. Maggie is looking forward to the following yet-to-be-released romantic suspense:

The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak (release date 07/28)

One Last Time by Denise Daisy (release date 08/04)

Malice by Lisa Clark O’Neill (her website says Summer of 2015)

Maggie added readers also might consider Karen White’s The Sound of Glass, and describes it as a women’s fiction/mystery novel which deals with a mystery in the past. Maggie notes that she loved it and gave it a DIK.

So while AAR’s Annual Reader poll is about six months away, we already have a lot of great suggestions for Best Romantic Suspense published for the first time in 2015. But are we missing some great romantic suspense? What have been some of your favorite romantic suspense reads so far this year? And what romantic suspense novels are you eagerly awaiting in the remainder of the year?



Posted in LinnieGayl AAR | Tagged , | 15 Comments