Monday Morning Stepback: Guess the fake fan letter

1. Quiz (ponder to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi, or The Carpenters’ – or Sonic Youth’s – Superstar)

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Some folks had fun last week guessing “the real rant”. So I have another challenge. In the early days (waaaay back in 2007), I did not have a blog, or even know about your blogs. So I did the old fashioned thing and directly emailed authors whose books I loved. But one of these is a fake! Which of the following did I not send a fangirl email to?

a. Megan Hart, for Dirty

b. Lara Adrian, for Kiss of Midnight

c. Barbara Dunlop, for The Billionaire’s Bidding (Silhouette Desire)

d. Diana Gabaldon, for Outlander

2. Links of interest

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*I am going to be completely shameless and pimp the discussion of Anne Stuart’s Black Ice we started here last night, which is still ongoing. Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and I invite any of you who haven’t jumped in to do so — and no, you don’t have to read all 100+ comments  first. If you are interested in romantic suspense as a subgenre, in feminism in romance heroines, in amoral heroes, or in what love is, you’ll enjoy the discussion.

*Do you ever have trouble keeping track of your comments on various blogs? I do, so I started using http://www.cocomment.com. All the discussions I have participated in are listed, with the latest comments, and links back to the blogs. So convenient! You can leave your account open for others to see where you’ve been commenting, or you can keep it private.

*Sarah Frantz, Captain in the Army National Guard (now medically retired), posted on the military and romance at Romancing the Blog.

*SuperWendy is asking readers to share where they get their books. She has even invited folks to write posts on their own blogs about it. I am going to try to post a photo essay later this week.

*Not romance, but Joanne Lipman wrote an op-ed on women’s status (and why we may be partially to blame for it) for the New York Times, which is very interesting. Or perhaps, as Gawker proclaims it “inaccurate, intellectually offensive, and gratingly pompous.”

*And again, not romance, but something I think about often: do you feel safe posting pictures of your children online? The New York Times looked at this issue yesterday. A bunch of women in my ‘hood locked their “family blogs” after a convicted child molester moved in to our neighborhood. But does it matter if the pedophile lives next door, or across the state?

3. Post Dramatic Stress Syndrome

I won’t have time to give it it’s own post, but I find lately that when I read romance, I sometimes think I know that the author is going to do something … bad. and I know this, because another author has led me down this exact same path, and I got burned.

Sometimes I am actually so worried about impending literary doom, that I don’t enjoy what’s in front of me. No, I don’t mean fear that the hero or heroine will be hurt, because that’s a good part of romance, a kind of dread lets you know the story is working, if it can make you fear those emotionally wrenching moments. I mean when you know the heroine or hero is going to do something stupid, or there’s going to be a big misunderstanding, or someone is going to tell an incredibly unhelpful lie, or deny something totally obvious, or get jealous for no reason, etc., just because the author needs it to happen, even if it makes no sense at all for the character or plot or setting.

Usually, I am thrilled with the knowledge I have gained of the tropes and techniques of the genre. It helps me to appreciate the genre so much more, because I recognize things I used to miss. Kind of like when you look at Michelangelo’s David after taking an art history course. But the price is that I have also tasted of the fruit of evil, and I remember it — the disappointment, the book hurling, the “no fucking way!” that had my spouse come running from another room. I have been burned and the ashy taste is sometimes  still in my head when I read a new book. For better and for worse.

Happy week!

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Book Discussion: Anne Stuart's Black Ice

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Welcome to my first attempt at discussing a book here on this blog. I’m interested in what you think.  Did you like it? hate it? Keeper shelf?

Please, have your say. Thread is open indefinitely.

No rules, other than the basic rules of civility. Respond to others’ comments as they interest you.

I am interested, personally, in the first sexual encounter between Bastien and Chloe, in Bastien’s amorality, in the balance of suspense to romance, and the development of their relationship under stressful conditions.

And if anyone can provide a long view of Stuart’s career and where Black Ice fits in, I would love it.

Thank you!

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Review: Phaze Fantasies IV, anthology

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I had never heard of Phaze before I read this collection of stories, nor had I heard of any of the authors.  Here are quick reviews of 3 of the 4 stories:

I purchased this for my Kindle. The formatting was terrible, almost unreadable, and there were words missing and “extra words” as well as typos (like “of” for “if” etc.).

1. And Then there Were 5, by Vivien Dean

This is an urban vampire story about two vamp hunters who fall in love.

Ten years prior to the action of the story, Ryan’s life was saved from vamps by world renowned vamp hunter Tala — at Purdue University, naturally — inspiring him to follow in her footsteps, and giving him a serious crush in the process.  A big vamp meeting is about to take place in New York City … at Grand Central Station.  I guess the vamps were using the old reverse psychology trick (“No one will think of looking for us there! Yeah, and let’s do it at midnight. No one expects vamps at midnight!! High five!), but it didn’t work, because Ryan and Tala and three others are there to await them, knowing all about the meeting, and also knowing full well that the vamps are climate change savvy, and ride public transportation to their big meetings. Things go awry — specifically, the vamps use the super secret vamp trick of turning out the lights!!! –and the hunters get disoriented and split up. This gives Ryan a chance to come on to Tala in the bathroom of the station, a good time and great place for their first hookup if there ever was one.

The vamp part of the story is a complete fail. I knew Ryan was no Einstein when he attempted appear “casual” by whistling and looking at a wristwatch he doesn’t wear. Yeah, that NEVER raises suspicion, does it? I lost complete confidence in his character, though, when he took a few minutes before the big showdown to visit the loo, and considered using tap water to fix his hair. He reminds his vain self sternly that “He wasn’t here to look good. He was here to stake vampires … “. This reprieve from Ryan’s narcissism is all too brief, however, for he concludes, “His hair was only going to end up looking worse by the time the night was through.”

The final stake in Ryan’s heroism (har har) was this line, “I spent half my day arming up.” Hmm. Let’s look at the results of Ryan’s half day of work, shall we? “Stakes were strapped to each calf and more tucked into his jacket. A bevy of sharpened pencils [Hello? Street cred? Can’t you at least call them “mini stakes”?] were hidden in an inside pocket, and the breath spray he carried held holy water instead of minty freshness [my god, that’s brilliant!].” I rest my case.

By relatively early on, I was so put off by Ryan’s character and the plot, that other things bothered me even more than they might have. Lines like “His fingers jumped across her skin, the flawless canvas broken by irregular bumps and valleys.” made me wonder whether “flawless” was really the right word choice there. I would read, “Her hard nipples scraped across his chest” and think “Uh oh. Someone needs Lansinoh!”.

I liked it that Ryan was the junior mousketeer, I liked the set up, the sex scene was fine, if very run of the mill, and the author gets points for thinking of unique ways to describe dark eyes (really!). But there was just too little time (one day) for a relationship to unfold or for the plot to start, never mind finish. Tala was not developed, even a little, which meant that when I read lines like “When she squeezed around his cock, harder than she had yet, a ragged groan came from his throat” I realized Tala’s diligence with the Kegels may be the only thing I really knew about her.

At the end, when Tala buys Ryan a plane ticket to show her love (shades of an early Bachelor season, anyone?), Ryan gushes that “Everything I am is because of you”. Tala’s tepid response, “I look forward to hunting with you.” pretty much summed up my enthusiasm for their affair.

2. Scorpion’s Orchid, by Eva Gale

This was the novella for which I purchased this collection. It’s steampunk romance, and it’s the first one I’ve read. It is set in a future New York, after the Sand Wars.

We figure out very quickly it is steampunk, because there are references to clothing and accessories like “bowler hat”, “duster”,”carpet bag”,  “aerogoggles”, “timepiece”, “handlebar mustache” and to “skeleton keys”, “brass coat tree”, “Pullman”, “steam engine” etc. I have to be honest: it read to me as if there is a Master Checklist of Steampunk Elements, and the author had to find ways to work them in. I did not feel like I got the “steampunk experience” despite the presence of many steampunk nouns. Better connections forged between the Sand Wars, the new totalitarian government, and the technological and fashion elements would have helped, but in a short novella, there isn’t time.

I knew it was going to be different when I learned the hero’s name was “Dr. Martin Detweiller”. Brave. But I wasn’t sure I was ready for steampunk when I read this line, two paragraphs in: “Martin raised his fist to slam the table but pulled back just short of hitting it, unwilling to waken the boy who slept in the corner cage.”

What’s this?? Did I stumble upon the holy grail of trendy romance tropes — m/m, BDSM, and steampunk — spiced with a new, transgressive, and illegal element, pedo-rom?

Fear not, dear reader. The boy, Xavier, is an orphan afflicted with a disease, the Scorpicus — the original of which is never explained — which turns him into a spider or scorpion (I know. these are not the same thing. I never could figure that out.). Dr. Martin Detweiller is on the case, but he needs orchids to perform his experiments. Besides the boy in the cage, and the orchid extract in beakers, there is a squid, and a dog named Canine, and a housekeeper who smells of sugar cookies. I have no idea how it all fits together. I think it’s supposed to be a Sherlock Holmes vibe.

The lovely Katerina Metrenko smuggles orchids (private ownership of plants is illegal) to make money to run a safe house for 13 orphans, but the corrupt police have been bribing her and threatening her. Dr. Martin Detweiller meets her at Grand Central Station, and, in a surprise move to both the heroine and the reader, proposes to her, claiming that it would help them get the police off her back and “provide a more secure living arrangement for the orphans.”

I have no idea why a flower thief would think marrying a wealthy doctor would get the greedy police off her back, rather than supplying them with a more lucrative target, but what really stuck me was the second reason. I was alerted to what turned out to be a very “hit you over the head” kind of conservative, Christian morality which pervades this text. For example, although religions have been abolished, Kat carries a saint charm, insists on visiting a (ruined) church to sanctify the marriage, and considers this marriage of convenience to a man she doesn’t know a  “covenant”. When they visit the state offices to obtain their marriage license, we hear that there is no reproductive freedom in the future, but the way the text reads, it means not that the full range of reproductive choices has been removed (including the choice not to conceive, and the choice not to bear a conceived fetus), only that abortions are forced on women.

The contrast between Good Kat and Martin on the one hand, and Sinful everyone else, was just too much. They were just too perfect for this reader. For example, Martin talks a lot about the Hippocratic Oath. But the Oath is a few hundred words long. It provides absolutely no guidance to physicians in the absence of a lot of practical judgment and experience. And Kat is so perfect just because she has these orphans. Well, people with very large families are often motivated by a complex set of desires, not all of them altruistic, some of them downright selfish or evil. I hardly need to mention Octomom. I have no problem with religious, or really principled heroines (Devout Quaker Maddie from Flowers from the Storm is one of my all time faves), but this was all too facile.

Consider the scene in which Martin is forced to masturbate in order to marry Kat. His semen must be checked by the state. Now, I am all for wide reproductive freedoms, but if there was a significant chance that my spawn could turn into a destructive giant scorpion when he hit puberty (and the connection of the “turning dangerous” to dawning sexuality was definitely not coincidental, given the moral vision that runs through the rest of the text), I would actually be in favor of a little state regulation.

Making the moment even more humiliating for Martin, the nurse (as a state employee, she is, naturally, eeeevil) insists on staying, to get a little voyeuristic satisfaction. Martin struggles mightily with his choice, thinking, “Katerina may never forgive him, but it was for those he meant to save. He had to keep his mind on WHY he was doing this.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but keeping my mind on 13 orphans is probably not the way to get me hot.

Katerina, recognizing that Martin is “sacrificing his pride to help others”, offers to “help”, and, instead of thinking, “hot DAMN, I accidentally married an exhibitionist. Yes! [leer]”, Martin thinks, “there she went again, trying to save people from the harshness of life.”

It turns out that Kat doesn’t wear any panties. Not because she’s a slutty slut slut slut, of course, but because she uses the material to make clothes for the orphans. Are you guys too young to recall the phrase “gag me with a spoon”?

In terms of plot, I had a big problem with the resolution of the Xavier storyline. The boy Xavier is Martin’s one close human connection, someone he considers a kind of son. There are about 100 instances of the name “Xavier” in the text (much of this is a repetition of the same basic statements,  “Xavier doesn’t have much time. I must find the cure.” ), and only 60 of Kat’s. Yet, the book ends with Xavier turning into a spider and running away. Martin looks for him for 3 hours, and then happily returns home. But this time, Kat and the housekeeper have gotten the kids washed and bathed and dressed in their best clothes, and made a cake. If you have seen The Sound of Music, you have a good idea of the concluding scene.

Of note: This is the first romance I have read in which the word “gah” was used positively in the middle of a sex scene. And “obsidian” is used once.

3. Railroad Standard Time by Philippa Grey-Gerou

This story is about a businesswoman named Dani who sees a strange but hot man on the platform of Grand Central Station (starting to see a theme in the collection?) who leers at her. One day, unbidden, he rattles off an array of details about Dani’s workplace, home, and background.

Naturally, Dani is turned on and intrigued.

They have a few nonsensical, violent interactions like this one:

Dani: I just want you to leave me alone!”

Trevalyn (yes, Trevalyn): “Fine.”

His jaw tightened in resolution. “In that case…”Before she could react, he caught her arm, knocking her papers to the floor again as he jerked her to him, crushing her mouth with a demanding searing kiss that drove everything from her mind. She struggles briefly, but he was unrelenting, his arms banding around her…”

When Dani resists, Trev says, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever had a man express sexual interest in you before?”

Of course, since this is erotic romance, Dani “weakens”, “relaxes”, and then “invites”.

She has sex with barebacked rapist stalker against a cement wall in a train station and she likes it, dammit.

And besides, Trev is such a gentleman. After pulling out and zipping up, he asks, “You going to be ok getting home?” So sweet.

On her way home, Dani thinks, “This must be what insanity felt like. Knowing something was completely crazy and doing it anyway.”

Uh, no Dani. This is what it feels like to be Too Stupid To Live. But enjoy those orgasms!

It turns out Trev is from the future — we can tell because he has magnets instead of a zipper for a fly — but by this point I was done with this story and done with this collection. In case you are interested, the fourth story is  “Beneath the surface”, by Cat Johnson.

Join us for a discussion of Anne Stuart's Black Ice

Begins Sunday (tomorrow) October 25 at 7:00pm EST. Open thread until it peters out!

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“An American book translator in Paris, Chloe Underwood, longing for some excitement, gets more than she bargains for when a new assignment immerses her in a deadly world of murder and illegal arms, forcing her to go into hiding with a mysterious stranger.” Click on the book for an excerpt.

Please join me in my experiment to see if a blog can work as a book discussion platform. This will be a spoiler discussion, so if you haven’t read Black Ice and don’t want to be spoiled, stay away.

I’ll put up a post which will not be a review. It may have a few questions to get things going, one of which will definitely be: were initial physical relations consensual, and if not, does it matter? Another may be, “can we cheer for an amoral hero, and if so, why didn’t we cheer for the hero in Linda Howard’s Death Angel?”

If I get more than 5 participants and 10 comments, I will consider it a success, and do another one in a month or so.

So please, if you’ve read it, pipe up!

Thanks!


Review: Start Me Up, by Victoria Dahl

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I listened to the audio version, narrated ably by Wanda Fontaine. To my ears, Fontaine has a very natural amateur sounding style, with performance almost an afterthought. As is typical with female narrated romances, she voices masculinity with low affect rather than deepening her voice.  She also narrated Dahl’s Talk Me Down, and Broken by Megan Hart, the latter of which I listened to and highly recommend.

My take in brief: Very funny, very sexy, with one of the most romantic endings I can recall reading in this subgenre. I really enjoyed it.

Word on the Web:

Dear Author, Janet/Robin, B-

I agree most with this part:

“I didn’t get enough of Quinn to understand why Lori, of all women, was the one who managed to hold his sexual and romantic attention.  NOT because Lori’s physical charms were perhaps a bit more petite than Quinn’s other women, but because slack jawed surprise merely opens the door to sex, and what makes Quinn want more is not justified merely because the reader may understand Lori’s appeal.  In other words, even though I may be able to construe any number of reasons they work as a couple doesn’t mean the book has, in my opinion, done its job in effectively building the relationship beyond the bedroom.”

Monkey Bear Reviews, B+

I agree most with this part:

“Victoria Dahl’s sense of humour is quirky and irreverent. I’d imagine it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it definitely appeals to me.”

The Romance Reader, 4 stars

I agree most with this part:

Start Me Up has a lot of chemistry, loads of charm and plenty of laughs. Quinn and Lori’s love affair works from the beginning because their old friendship morphs into something much hotter very naturally.”

KupK8’s Kitchen, positive

I agree most with this part:

“While I loved both novels, I liked Lori more as a character. Her journey to rediscover herself after sacrificing her dreams for her responsibilities is one I can strongly relate to. I know her. Molly was a bit silly, but not silly in an “I’m going to throw you into the wall” kind of way. More like the friend you have who always gets too tipsy at the bar (or acts like it anyway) and makes you snort Coke out your nose with outrageous comments. But her growth as a character didn’t interest me as much, though she was dreadfully amusing in both novels.”

AAR, Abi,  B+

I agree most with this part:

Start Me Up isn’t an A for me only because I would rather the story held more scenes between Lori and Quinn, particularly towards the end. I suppose what I’m saying is, I’d have liked the book to be longer, and if the big, bad publisher made this impossible, I’d have liked their relationship to be meatier, meaning Dahl could have made the novel into a fully character-centric book with no mysteries to solve (apart from the mystery of their lurve).”

Series?: Yes, second in the Tumble Creek, CO trilogy, after Talk Me Down. Up next in Jan 2010 is Lead Me On, Jane’s story.

Racy Romance Review:

Instead of doing my own review, I just pasted together the parts of other reviews that I liked. It is not cheating. Rather, it’s my attempt to bring postmodernity into the romance reviewing world.

Just kidding.

Anyway, Lori is a bit stuck. She had to return from college to care for her father who had been permanently and severely disabled in a a bar fight. After his death, Lori took over his garage and stayed put, literally and emotionally. She doesn’t conform to gender expectations in employment, dress, demeanor or dating habits (her infrequent and not totally satisfying affairs were brief and private), so she is, of course, suspected of being a lesbian. As the story opens, Lori, a frequent reader of erotic romance, is wishing she could have a hot no strings attached affair with a man who outperforms her own hand in the bedroom.

Quinn is a hot nerdy successful architect from Lori’s hometown of Tumble Creek, now living and working “across the pass” in Aspen. All I know about Aspen I learned from multiple viewings of Dumb and Dumber

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Which is to say, not very much.

Anyway, the romance gets going when they notice each other sexually for the first time:

Lori couldn’t help but laugh. When he scowled, she laughed harder. “Give it up, Quinn. I’m not going to feel sorry for you. Even if you could convince me you’re a nerd, you’re still hot and rich and successful. Poor baby.”

Shaking her head, she set to work on removing the old starter. Maybe he was nerdy in the strictest sense of the word, but she knew plenty of girls in her junior high class who’d thought him tantalizingly mysterious before he’d gone off to college. Bookish and distracted took on a whole different meaning when the boy in question was also gorgeous and kind.

“Hot?” she heard him ask, and looked up to see him leaning against the porch rail watching her.

“Huh?”

“Hot. You said I was hot.” He kept his mouth serious, but his hazel eyes danced with laughter.

This time Lori’s face heated. She waved her wrench in his general direction. “I was just stroking your ego.”

“Well, nice work. It felt good, your stroking.”

This is an example of one thing I really liked about SMU. In another book, Lori would have answered Quinn’s comment, “You said I was hot”, by getting embarrassed, turning away, etc. but not only does Lori have a great comeback, it keeps going with Quinn’s come on.

So many times, I found myself in a preparatory wince, sure that I knew what kind of typical contemporary romance conversational non-response was coming from Quinn or Lori. I find that conversations, especially in contemps, which is probably my favorite subgenre, are even more freakishly unnatural than the sex. In this they are often like soap operas, where people answer each other the way the author needs them to to get the story where she wants it. This often ushers in non sequiturs, nonsense, and big misunderstandings.

I am happy to report that Dahl allowed her characters to “go there”, whether it was bawdy talk, as in this case, or just direct talk about something uncomfortable. If a character was wondering something, s/he asked it. Amazing, isn’t it? Dahl didn’t rely on artificial conversation curbers to keep suspense or drama going. That’s a long winded way of saying the dialogue was great, and so funny at times — especially in the first third of the book — that I laughed out loud.

Lori and Quinn engage in a steamy affair, and while he begins to fall for her, Lori resists. You might think the resistance was the “rich boy/poor girl” aspect of their relationship, and, while the presence of “Dream Whore Barbies” in Quinn’s past romantic life did cause Lori her moments of insecurity, that wasn’t really it. (As an aside, I wish Quinn’s attraction to those women had been explored more fully. It rarely is.) I completely understood Lori’s resistance, although she couldn’t articulate it herself until the very end. In love, there is a difference between completing each other and using another person to shore up big gaps in your identity. Lori had some work to do on that score, before she could give herself to Quinn. It was a believable conflict and it worked for me.

I did agree with Robin and others who reviewed SMU that Quinn’s attraction to Lori was not as clearly developed as I would have liked. I believed, especially in the wonderful ending (eating hotdogs at a kitchen table was never so romantic), that he WAS in love with her, but since it was mainly her rosy nipples that he talked about in the book, it wasn’t clear how it happened. The fact that they had known each other for years helped with this.

There is a suspense subplot — involving a piece of land Lori inherited fomr her father —  which worked for me. That’s all I’ll say about it.

I’ll now get into probably my favorite thing about this book, besides the dialogue that almost got me banned from my gym for laughing so hard I apparently distracted others from their workouts, which was the depiction of Lori’s sexuality.

I absolutely loved it that Lori read sexy romance novels, and I found it remarkable that Dahl could provide snippets of Lori’s reading material that were at the same time very funny and lovingly presented. Lori has a complex journey to undertake, which includes grieving for her father and restarting her stalled life, but her sexual needs are presented not as a superficial distraction, but as a key part of that journey. This is a hot read, but the last thing that is happening in this book is a cheapening of sexuality.

The sex scenes provided the heart of the development of Lori and Quinn’s relationship, and while I wish there had been more nonsex scenes, these did move the relationship along in important ways. After all, having known each other since childhood, sex was the area in which their relationship had the furthest to go.

I was reminded, reading SMU, of an essay by philosopher and feminist theorist Sara Ruddick called “Better Sex”, which was originally published in 1975 in an edited collection called Philosophy & Sex. In it, Ruddick talks about “completeness” in sex acts. Sex is not just about orgasm (which one can have by oneself, while sleeping, or against one’s will), but about desire, and specifically, mutually recognized and encouraged desire. Completeness depends on the relation of the people to each other’s sexual desire. In complete sex, a person allows herself to be taken over by active desire, which includes an awareness of the active desire of the partner.

As she puts it:

A desiring consciousness is flooded with specifically sexual feelings that eroticize all perception and movement. Consciousness ‘becomes flesh.'”

This embodiment is key: think about sexual assault victims who “go somewhere else” while they are being violated. The partner has to actively desire the other partner’s desire. This takes more than embodiment (which after all, masturbation can help someone achieve all alone), and more than just being aroused by another. In complete sex, “two persons embodied by sexual desire actively desire and respond to each other’s active desire.” This was portrayed beautifully in the text, in my opinion.

From this point of view, passivity with respect to one’s sexual desire — the passivity Lori started out with — poses a real threat to not only sexual pleasure, but to the possibility of incorporating sexual pleasure into a coherent identity. Complete sex (which can occur between strangers, between more than two people, and between same sex partners) provides moments of recognition as a “real” person to be respected and valued, puts a brake on our tendency to disassociate from our bodies, and can — but does not have to — usher in an emotional connection that conduces to the virtue of loving (which is a virtue in my book).

Well, that’s my personal interpretation of Quinn’s afterglow declaration: “I was a fucking sex ninja!”.

Your mileage may vary.

Monday Morning Stepback: 2 Fake Rants and 1 Real One

1.  Rants

On NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, they have a quiz where they give you a few bizarre news items and the contestant has to figure out which is the real one and which are fakes. In a similar vein, here are three rants. A rant is by definition an emotional attack.  Only one is my real opinion.

a. The phrase “I want to have babies with this book” is making the rounds in Romland. Ok, people. We already have pronatalism in romance, with the happily child free heroine an endangered species compared to her thoughtlessly world-overpopulating sisters (see any epilogue in a historical romance near you). But now we have pronatalism in romance reviewing as well? We can’t merely force our heroines to have babies to be fulfilled, but now we bloggers have to have them? With books? Give me a break!

b. Overuse of the word “obsidian”, especially related to the hero’s eyes. Unlike blue eyes, which can be azure, sky, or midnight, black apparently has only one synonym — obsidian. The last book I read mentioned it no fewer than fifteen times! Even heroes who do not have black eyes suddenly get all obisidan on our asses when they get lusty. In the old days, eyes would get “dark” to signify lust. Now they get “obsidian”. I’m sorry people, but amber eyes — at least on a human — do not turn obsidian on command from the penis.  Authors, how about “inky”? Or “ebony”? Or “coal black”? Anything but obsidian. Please!

PS. Also, I think it is my feminist duty to mention that obsidian is used in a very sexist manner. Why can’t heroines have a little of that obsidian, huh?

c. I am back on Twitter, and have returned to using Google reader. And, while things are under control at the moment, I can’t help but notice that I am being constantly bombarded with contests and giveaways.  The retweeting practice on Twitter means that for every 1 contest, there are about 20 tweets. I don’t even post on those threads anymore, despite some of them having good content (like author interviews or good reviews) because I am so sick of having to add “but don’t enter me in the contest”. And in addition to all the original tweets and posts about the contest, there are always the last minute ones — “contest almost over!” “tweet now to win this book!”, “only one more day to enter!”. Is there sometimes too much of a good thing? Yes!

2. Links of interest

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I asked Kristen, of Fantasy Cafe, what she thought about the gender sci fi wars recently breaking out in the blogopshere (you know, the “women are ruining sci fi” post). Her partner, John, kindly wrote a post . Check it out!

Barbara of Happily Forever After has a beautiful new blog look, and a great post on cover art.

Ahoy mateys! Sarah Tanner is doing a series on piracy dilemmas. What I really like about it, is that instead of demonizing pirates and “just saying no”, she is presenting some pretty sympathetic cases.

Question: What great blogs have you been reading lately?  Suggestions?

3. Convention update

Rom Con. More info about the Romance Convention in July in Denver. Authors who will be in attendance include Nalini Singh, Elizabeth Hoyt, Susan Mallery, Brenda Novak, Anna Campbell, Jeaniene Frost, Jo Beverley.

Also, there are going to be several panels on how to blog and how to write book reviews, including “Getting Your Reviews Noticed by Publisher and Authors”. I wonder who the RomCon folks will ask to serve on those panels.

I must say, it is getting more interesting all the time.

4. Romance on audio

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Things are really changing. It used to be you could get anything you wanted by Nora Roberts, Amanda Quick and Cassie Edwards. And that was pretty much it. Now, every week, new titles, and new authors are being added. Anne Stuart’s Ice series is now available, as well as Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series. New items from Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, Jo Goodman, Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Hoyt and others. And Harlequin has its own audio bookstore with all of its lines well represented.

If you have not tried it, now is a great time. They are not cheap, but more and more libraries are offering audio downloads.

5. Adventures in parent teacher conferences

parent-teacher

Child 1’s Teacher:

M. has been doing very well, with things like word recognition and reading. We do need to work on his writing.

Us: His writing?

Teacher: Yes, he has trouble coming up with topics. Appropriate topics.

Us: Appropriate topics?

Teacher: Yes. He tends to want to write about things that I feel the class is not interested in.

Us: Such as?

Teacher: Well. (she takes out a folder, showing us a paper with a big circle in the middle and smaller circles branching off of it, like the planets orbiting the sun). I ask them to put a central topic in the middle bubble, and then related ideas in the satellite bubbles.

Us: Yes, and…?

She shows us a paper with M.’s barely legible chicken scratch.  We actually encourage bad handwriting in the hopes that he will become a physician and support us in our twilight years. I keep mum on that point.

Here is what it says:

“TOE FUNGIS” is written in the central bubble, with “warm”, “brown”, “jerm”, and “no eeting”,  in the surrounding bubbles. With illustrations.

I make a mental note to go home, hug M. and tell him I want to hear all about toe fungus.

Child 2 conference:

All of the kids have their “autobiographical posters” up on the wall in the classroom. In the middle square, the kids are supposed to put their “best memory”. Our child described our trip to Europe two years ago. It started out great — the castles, the museums, the culture.

But the last line was the killer: “In Iceland, my mommy told us she was going to take us for a special dinner on our last night. But we ran out of krona and had to eat hotdogs from a stand.”

6. Coming Up This week. Maybe.

Probably, I will spend most of it arguing with Robin and Tasha about whether books are art or commerce. But, if I have any time left over, I am working on reviews of the latest Meljean Brook, on a review of Start Me Up by Victoria Dahl, on a post called Post Dramatic Stress Syndrome, about the bad aftereffects of reading bad romance novels, and my long delayed review of Black Silk.

Happy week!

Fuzzy Thoughts on Promotion and Book Blogging

I’ll start with three quotations:

1. In an interesting post called “The Reviewer/Promoter Hat“, Mrs. Giggles wrote,

I found myself wondering why do reviewers in the online romance community sometimes feel the need to wear the promoter’s hat? … Reviews are meant for readers. I know authors have muddled this concept by telling each other that reviews play a part in the promotion of a book … Which brings me to my question: why do people who review also want to act as interviewer, promoter, and best friend to the people whose books they review? Why even review? Why not just write about the book in a casual manner without even using the word review, because at least that will defuse some of the criticisms leveled at those blogs?

2. At All About Romance’s blog, Blythe posted about promotion in blogging, putting AAR’s position this way:

We love to promote great new books, but that’s not our job…at least not exactly. … our job is really reviewing, not promotion.  Our goal in reviewing a book is to help the reader decide whether it’s worth buying…whether we liked it or not.  I’ve had people tell me they rushed right out and bought something that I’ve recommended.  I’ve also had them tell me they rushed out and bought something I hated, or not bought something I loved because they could tell they wouldn’t love it.  I’m fine with all those reactions.

3. At Romancing the Blog, Malle Vallik, Director of Digital Content & Interactivity for Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., offered some tips for authors on using blog commenting to promote your book, which include: “Comment on several blogs every day, if you can. ” and

The experts state that in order to be successful you need to be authentic and genuine; you have to think more about other’s needs than your own; you should be everywhere everyday BUT you need to be careful that you are not obviously or shamelessly self promoting.

What you want to accomplish is to come across as a smart, nice, genuine person who likes readers and books. You never know what might develop from such a reputation. Readers who read the review but then read your comment may decide they like you and want to try your book for themselves.

Reaction to the recent FTC guidelines from book bloggers was swift and severe. I agree with many of the criticisms — the most serious being that the guidelines are so broad that they may unconstitutionally restrict speech, the second most serious the unfairness of treating bloggers differently than print media. This post is not to defend the FTC, but to defend the legitimacy of a certain way of looking at what book bloggers do.

The FTC shined a light on something that makes us uncomfortable: our role as cogs in the publishing promotion machine. Book bloggers got annoyed at being lumped in with quick dry paint and dog food, as the AAR post makes clear. No, book bloggers insisted, we are having a conversation. What we do is different from what the natural headache remedy people are doing.

Book bloggers tend to see themselves as fellow consumers and have a hard time thinking of themselves in the ways the FTC does. They kept insisting on differences. For example, a natural headache remedy can seriously hurt you, what harm can a book review do? Others claimed that the FTC rules are an insult to readers, who can very well decide for themselves whether to buy a book, and hardly need Big Government protection on this matter. Still others said that if book buyers are dumb enough to be fooled by shill reviewers, then they get what they deserve. Many were outraged by the suggestion that free books are somehow payment for positive reviews, pointing out the many negative reviews book bloggers write.

For me, it all starts with a simple question: Why would an author or a publisher give me a book and not ask me to pay for it?

The answer is clear. They give “free” books as part of a campaign to promote the book. This is not about whether bloggers write honest reviews: some do, some don’t, and the honesty/dishonesty line doesn’t track the paid for/freebie line. There are too many reasons to be less than honest in a review to list, and getting free books is only one of them, and probably less common than some of the others, such as fear of angering someone, hope of making someone happy, friendship with the author, or hating the author. (I mean dishonesty here, as in, deliberately misleading readers as to one’s actual opinion about a book, not bias, although all of these things may contribute to bias.).

Being an honest blogger doesn’t make your book any less free. If you were a promoter (and by this I mean anyone whose job it is to get the word out about a book, whether an author, editor, marketer, etc.), and you had three choices: (1) no mention on a blog, (2) negative mention on a blog, or (3) positive mention on a blog, which would be the worst? I am thinking (1). Even a negative review gets word out about a product. It is better that people hear bad things about it than hear nothing at all, which is why promoters take a chance even with critical bloggers. (in this, I diverge from the FTC, which sees negative reviews as nonpromotional.).

Most of us bloggers are small potatoes. But isn’t it true that even a few thousand (hundred?) books can make the difference between getting and failing to get another contract? Wouldn’t you do everything you could to sell those extra few thousand books, even if it meant visiting 20 blogs and answering the same set of questions again and again? While I am sure there are lots of reasons you see greater numbers of aspiring, nearly published, and newly published authors in Romanceland than you see of bigshots, as Ms. Vallik’s series on RtB shows, their need for this kind of “small potatoes promotion” is surely one of them.

Mrs. Giggles’s point about the amount of free press bloggers give to authors is a good one. Many of us have noted the rise in contests, author interviews, and other posts that are a promoter’s dream, all being done unpaid, by book bloggers. In some ways, the wave of summer blogger manifestos reflected an attempt to come to terms with that recognition.

Some bloggers may write false positive reviews to get free books. Some blogs are nothing but promo after squeeing promo. Some are dishonest, some are not (some people really do squee over anything and everything). But with the rise of the web, more and more consumers are relying on comments from other consumers before buying anything. And the FTC is trying to find a way to alert those consumers to relationships between bloggers and industry which create an appearance of a conflict of interest, whether or not one actually exists. From the point of view of industry, and from my personal point of view as well, there really is no difference between kinds of romance bloggers (honest or dishonest), or between book bloggers and dog food bloggers.

Sure, when we write a book review, we are not claiming to know how this product will work for you. But, at least some of the time, we are saying something about a product to potential consumers, who may use what we say as part of their deliberations in purchasing this or similar products. And it is at least in part because book promoters see us this way that they give us “free” books, and visit our blogs, and follow us on twitter.

Social media experts are very blunt about the need to make the most of these relationships. Think of Ms. Vallik’s language above. It’s not enough to pretend. You have to be “authentic”, to use one of the buzzwords:

The Tools – the Technology. They only do one thing. They enable conversation. And conversations help build relationships between people. And Social Media is about relationships. People want to do business with people they trust. And people don’t trust strangers. So once again Relationships Matter. People Matter. -Erica O’Grady, Feb 18, 2008

I’m not sure whether authors are supposed to cultivate trusting relationships in order to mine them for promotional support, or cultivate promotional relationships they can then turn into trusting relationships, or whether, as seems most likely, it is all supposed to happen simultaneously. (If you are detecting some skepticism here, you are detecting aright. I won’t turn this into a rant against “social media gurus”, though, because others have done this much effectively and humorously than I possibly could).

The FTC guidelines clearly suck in achieving their purpose, but the whole discussion raises the question of overlapping relationships between bloggers and industry, which is a good one to ask.

I don’t mean for this to come off as anti-author. For one thing, many, if not most, authors just want to write, and want to sell their books so they can keep writing, and all of this promotion is not exactly a happy addition to their job description. For another, most authors would be online talking about romance novels whether or not they ever wrote one, because they’re fans too.

And for their part, bloggers are not always just “pure fans” blogging “for the love of the genre”. They often get other things from this deal, too, such as:

–increased web traffic, especially good if their blog is a means to grow their own career, in journalism, marketing, or social media guruship, for example.
–increased status in their fandom
–contact with published authors and editors for aspiring author bloggers

So … am I saying we are all just using each other? No, of course not. Many of our real life social interactions are often overdetermined in just this way — ever dated a coworker? Gone golfing with your doctor? Had a student wait on you at a restaurant?. In Romland, the promotional stuff can, and often does, coexist with non-instrumental interaction, i.e. genuinely liking and enjoying each other, valuing each other, respecting each other, and wanting each other to do well.

And even if mutual use is all it is, that wouldn’t be a problem as long as we are consenting to it, and respecting each other at the same time. As a wise homo interruptus once wrote:

To use is necessary and if you can’t be used, then you are useless.
-Kanye West, Thank You and You’re Welcome

Being a part of the promotional machine is not something only weak, bad, or dishonest book bloggers do. We all do it. Sure, from my point of view, I am merely talking about the books I read with other readers. But from industry’s point of view (and sometimes also from my own), the strength of my speech can be harnessed to achieve other effects. The fact that we don’t intend all the consequences of our actions doesn’t necessarily make us less responsible for them. If the social media experts are being totally upfront about using informal web 2.0 relationships to sell books, then I don’t see why we can’t also be honest about this aspect of book blogging, talk about it, and try to maximize benefits and minimize harms that may result from it.

This is why I like it when questions are asked about ethics in reviewing, or about whether sidebar ads constitute an endorsement of the product by the blogger. These kinds of questions reveal a recognition of the fact that “free” books are not free. Book bloggers are not mere consumers but are also participating, in their small way, in the promotional aspect of the industry. As such, we may have some responsibilities that someone who buys her copy of a book and reads it in her living room does not. One of those may be looking out for conflicts of interest, whether in reality or appearance. Another may be thinking more critically about the relationship between blogger and promoter that the giving of the physical book represents. Another may be thinking hard about it and deciding these potatoes really are too small to get worked up about. I honestly don’t know, but if nothing else comes out of the FTC mess, I hope even more discussion of the complex overlapping relationships that constitute — for worse and for better — Romanceland ensues.

The Winsor List: My Favorite 16 Romances

On Twitter, @Mcvane and @Sonomalass were challenging each other to list their favorite books, movies and songs. Somehow this became a challenge to post our favorite 16 romances on October 16, which is the birthdate of a romance foremother, Kathleen Winsor (1919-2003).

 

Minnesota born, Berkeley bred Winsor was the author of Forever Amber, published in 1944. Here’s the synopsis:

Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, 16-year-old Amber St. Clare manages, by using her wits, beauty, and courage, to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England-that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from events such as the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary-and extraordinary-men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have.

The Massachusetts Attorney General, exhibiting a streak of “prurient interest” if there ever was one, combed the book and found, according to Winsor’s Guardian obituary, “70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, seven abortions, 10 scenes in which women undressed in front of men who were not their husbands, and nearly 50 ‘miscellaneous objectionable passages’ – and announced that the book would be banned (an action overturned on appeal).”

For her part, Winsor protested:

“I wrote only two sexy passages … and my publishers took both of them out. They put in ellipses instead. In those days, you know, you could solve everything with an ellipse.”

Forever Amber was reissued in 2002, with a foreword by Barbara Taylor Bradford. That same year, Forever Amber received a positive review in the Guardian by feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter.

Winsor went on to publish other novels, but none garnered the sales or critical notice of Forever Amber, which was made into a film. She opined, somewhat unflatteringly, that her readers “like to read about the past because it has no threats for them”.

Writers should take note that forever Amber was originally a 2500 page manuscript, pared down by editors into a “modest” 1000!

Some other bloggers are joining the fun. If you are one of them and I did not list you, let me know!
And if you don’t have a blog, just put your list in a comment.

Leontine

Nicola, Alpha Heroes

What Kate’s Reading
Kristie(j)
Sonomalass
Keishon
Keira Soleore
Nadia Lee
Lusty Reader
Megan Frampton
JMC_bookrelated
Wendy the Super Librarian
Phyls Quilts and Books

Hedenkind (Tasha)

Jill the Romance Rookie (with a review of Forever Amber!)

Carolyn Jean

Books to the Sky

Katiebabs

Romantic Times

Lauren Willig

Jessica’s List:

According to my LibraryThing account, I have only read about 200 romance novels. So, for me, 16 is actually the top 13% of romances I have ever read.

How did a book make the list? Basically, there had to be a moment (or more) in the book that knocked my socks off, that was unforgettable, that made the book come totally alive, the characters seem to get up and walk off the page. I did not pick the romance novels that I felt were the best written — not even the best written by the author in question — although of course, I harbor a secret hope that my tastes track aesthetic excellence at least a little. These are just my favorites, in the most personal, goofiest, least defensible sense of the word.

Today.

This minute.

(And I kept making last minute subs!)

And they are listed, you might notice, in alphabetical order by title.

Black Dagger Brotherhood, JR Ward (first 4 books. These were the first romance novels I read)
Black Silk, Judith Ivory
Demon Moon, Meljean Brook
Devil in Winter, Lisa Kleypas
Dirty, Megan Hart
Flowers from the Storm, Laura Kinsale
Manhunting, Jennifer Crusie
More Than A Mistress, Mary Balogh
Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
Private Arrangements, Sherry Thomas
Seize the Fire, Laura Kinsale
Slightly Dangerous, Mary Balogh
To Have and to Hold, Patricia Gaffney
To Love a Thief, Julie Ann Long
Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn

Maili’s list:

Heart of Deception – Taylor Chase [Elizabethan]
Set in Elizbethan London, war veteran Rafe Fletcher races against time
to clear his family’s name as his father and brother are due to be
hanged for commiting treason. He shrewdly realises that Vivian Swift,
a notorious criminal underlord, may hold a key to the identity of the
real plotters and begins to worm his way into her dark world as her
possible lover.

While it has the HEA (and awesome love scenes), it’s not a typical
romance with misunderstood heroine and bossy hero. Vivian is truly a
bad girl who would do whatever it takes to protect her loved ones. If
that means killing someone, she will do it. Rafe, on the other hand,
is the innocent and noble one here. There are mystery, politics,
historical events and a journey through the dark and dirty side of
London.

The downside: I feel Vivian’s brother Nick is somewhat stereotypical,
but it’s a flaw I’m willing to accept. This is actually the
lightest-hearted offering from Taylor Chase (aka Gayle Feyrer).

The Emerald Necklace – Diana Brown [Traditional Regency]
Set in Regency-era London, the heroine is annoyed that she was forced
to marry a Cit. Sure, he’s wealthy but still, he’s a commoner. To snub
her nose at him, she openly and romantically engages herself to
another man. Eventually she comes to realise there’s more to her
husband than she’s expected, but will it be too late to redeem herself
to save their marriage? I rarely enjoy troubled-marriage romances, but
this one blew me away because it doesn’t have a rosy-tinted view of a
flawed couple. It’s a gritty, tough read and it has the HEA that makes
you feel richly rewarded for abusing your teeth by grinding so much.
An easy breezy read? Hahah. Please.

The Portrait – Megan Chance [the Gilded Age]
Set in 19th-century NYC, an emotionally unstable famous artist vs. an
ambitious socialite. She’d do anything to get him to agree taking her
on as an art student. At times the hero is an arsehole, but the
difference is he really has a valid reason: he has bi-polar (which is
never named in this story). I think this is also the first historical
romance I read that heavily hints that the hero is bisexual. It does
have flaws, but I liked The Portrait because it’s so atypical.

Her Heart’s Desire – Rene J. Garrod [Western]
It’s a Western-setting romantic comedy of a bespecated scholar coming
to the West from NYC to find his long-lost brother and gets abducted
by three sisters to present as a bridegroom to a practical-minded
spinster. It’s a comfort read. If you like Paint Your Wagon (without
the love triangle) with a touch of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,
you might like Her Heart’s Desire. It makes a light-hearted, fun read.
Hound dog is awesome as well.

Some Kind of Magic – Theresa Weir [Contemporary]
I have a very soft sport for this one because it’s probably Weir’s
only romantic [black] comedy to date, with a suitable amount of dark
angst provided by our Dylan who has a decidedly interesting
upbringing. I went into this story without knowing anything about the
story (I didn’t even read the back blurb) and it was awesome, so by
holding back the details, I hope you’d have a similar experience.

November of the Heart – LaVryle Spencer [19th-century Minnesota]
It’s one of Spencer’s undeservedly underrated works. A historical
romance that revolves around a socialite and a working-class Norwegian
immigrant who has a talent for boat-building. Lorna Barnett’s wealthy
father is besotted with sailing and competing in a yacht regetta. Jens
Harken, who works in the Barnett house as a kitchen servant, takes a
risk by offering to build a yacht that will give Gideon a real chance
of winning the Regetta. Amused, Gideon Barnett decides to let him by
giving him time off his kitchen work and the money and place to build
his yacht.
While Jens builds the yacht Lorna eventually gets close to him and
they fall in love. However, the difference in their social status gets
in the way that may destroy their relationship. It’s again an atypical
romance with no real villain, just a society that abides its social
rules, and an awesome HEA. It’s perfect for readers who enjoy
character-driven romances with a slow build-up of romance, social
tensions and relationships.

Always to Remember – Lorraine Heath [post-Civil War Texas]
Clayton Holland is a social outcast in his hometown, Cedar Grove of
Texas, because he’s steadfastly refused to join to fight for the
Confederacy. Meg Warner, having lost her husband and three brothers to
the war, has a real issue with Clay’s presence because it’s a constant
reminder of her losses. As punishment, Meg commissions Clay to create
a stone memorial in the name of men who died during war. Clay accepts,
in spite of the emotional cost of his decision and the depth of her
contempt for him. As he works on the sculpture over next few months,
they slowly fall in love.
I do not like tearjerkers, but I have to list this because it’s not
common to find a romance with the hero as a conscientious objector. My
great uncle was such and it came with a very high price, so it was
interesting to see through Clay’s eyes and how people around him
reacted. And the romance between Clay and Meg was rather sweet. It has
a couple of flaws, but the pay-off was worth it.

I’m running out of time (trust me to leave it at last minute!), so
I’ll just list the rest:

Moonrise – Anne Stuart [contemporary]

Runabout – Pamela Morsi [Americana]

Passion – Marilyn Pappano [romantic suspense]

River of Eden – Glenna McReynolds [Amazonian adventure]

Somebody Wonderful – Kate Rothwell [19th-century NYC]

As You Desire – Connie Brockway [Victorian Egypt]

Midsummer Moon – Laura Kinsale [Regency England]

Midnight Rainbow – Linda Howard [Amazonian adventure]

The Bride From Faraway – Olgas Daniels [turn-of-the-century Scotland]

WanderingG of the Scarlet Corset’s list:

I swear writing this list is  like creating a mixed tape back in the day. Trying to get your favorite songs  together and once recorded you realize you forgot this one or that one. Then if  someone happens to find the tape and plays it they’ll say “Ew, you like that  song?” Yep, just like a mixed tape ;)

One  thing I’ve learned since blogging and blog-hopping is I haven’t read nearly as much as some other bloggers. Seriously, hats off to those that read 20-30 in a  month. But that just means there are still tons of great stories out there for  me to discover!
So without futher ado, here’s my  current top 16 in no particular order:

Julie Garwood –  Ransom
The  very first romance novel I ever read was by Julie Garwood. Most of her  historicals would fall in my faves category so I narrowed it down to a couple. I  remember I enjoyed her writing because of the heroes but also the little quirks  she gave her heroines. Always something that makes me smile. For some reason,  Ransom with Brodick and Gillian’s story has always been one of my top favorites  (I don’t care too much for the Ramsey and whats-her-face storyline).

Julie Garwood – The  Bride
Alec  and Jamie – a lovely little tale. One of my favorite parts is the whole Gaelic  joke and Alec’s discovery of what Jamie’s been hiding.

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss –  Shanna
This  was the second romance novel I read after my first Julie Garwood book. This was  back in my middle school/high school days and I haven’t read it since. But the  story still sticks with me and I remember enjoying the trickery behind Ruark’s  identity.

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss – Ashes  in the Wind
I  remember this one because there’s a portion where the hero is injured and soon  after he becomes an alcoholic. Through all their troubles you still root for  Alaina and Cole and hope somehow they will overcome all the hardships and get  their HEA. I also remember this as being the first book that actually mentioned  the heroine’s menstrual cycle.

Jennifer Crusie – Bet  Me
Jennifer Crusie was the first contemporary romance author  I read and this was the first that had a heroine that wasn’t the typical skinny  girl. Cal and Minnie were sweet together and I have a fun time with most of  Crusie’s books.

Jennifer Crusie –  Manhunting
This  was probably my 3rd Crusie book and another fun one. Kate and her  plan for the perfect man. What could go wrong?

Judith Ivory – Sleeping  Beauty
First book I read that had an older heroine and younger  hero. I remember enjoying this because James really had to pursue Coco, who had  very valid reasons for being cautious against it.

Stephanie Laurens – Devil’s  Bride
Devil Cynster will always be a fave of mine. I read more  of the series and liked catching glimpes of Devil, Honoria and especially Devil  as a father, but they were basically the same storylines to me and none could  surpass the first book.

Stephanie Laurens – Captain  Jack’s Woman
After stopping the Cynster series I decided to try the  Bastion books. I read 3 and found I liked this one (the first) best of all. I  thought Kit and Jack were hot together. Although I stopped the series a while  back, I do want to read Dalziel’s story because he always intrigued  me.

Kelley Armstrong –  Bitten
First paranormal book I read with a strong female lead. I  liked Elena and Clay together and though I’m only on book 3 of the series (which  skips to other characters) I look forward to continuing and getting to the books  that are back to Elena and Clayton’s storyline.

Keri Arthur – Riley Jensen  Guardian Series
This  I listed as a series because I don’t feel like any one book is a favorite. I  really just like the series and the romance of Riley and Quinn flows pretty well  across each book. There are parts of the series I didn’t much care for (the  excess werewolf sex drive stuff, the cloning storyline) but the overall arc of  Riley and Quinn and now Riley and her wolf mate is played out nicely. For me,  Riley is better than some other paranormal characters because while she may have  lovers and boyfriends, they have actual break ups and the guy will move on. She  does not have the magical love palace that every man wants entrance to  24/7.

Sarah McCarty – Promises  Linger
First erotica novel I read that I felt actually had a  storyline too. I’ll admit some of the sex was a little much for me but I thought  Asa and Elizabeth were a good match.

Heather Cullman – A Perfect  Scoundrel
Hero  is an ass through most of the book and heroine is considered plain and  unattractive. This book won me over because of the heroine and how she handled  herself when Sir Ass basically sent her off into hiding, her interaction with  the people of his hometown and how she dealt with SA when he returned  home.

Paula Quinn – Laird of the  Mist
Paula Quinn reminded me of Julie Garwood. Enjoyed this  one and looking forward to reading more from her.

Beth Kery – Wicked  Burn
Very  real and honest, emotional story. Has steamy, sexy elements but for me the  overall storyline is what got me.

Megan Hart –  Dirty
Again, another emotional story that has steamy elements  but a great story arc from Ella’s actions at the beginning to dealing with what  happened in her past with the help of Dan.

Janet NorCal’s/Janet W’s list:

1. Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer
2. Cotillion, Georgette Heyer
3. Devil’s Cub, Georgette Heyer
4. More Than A Mistress, Mary Balogh
5. Unwilling Bride, Jo Beverley
6. His Lordship’s Mistress, Joan Wolf
7. Devil’s Bride, Stephanie Laurens
8. Naked in Death, J.D. Robb
9. To Have and To Hold, Patricia Gaffney
10. Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie
11. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, Carla Kelly
12. Tempting Harriet, Mary Balogh
13. Bride of Emersham, Leslie Lance (gothic)
14. Forbidden, Jo Beverley
15. Midnight Bayou, Nora Roberts
16. A Scandalous Proposal, Julia Justiss

Vassiliki Veros’s List:

Here are some of my fave titles. I’m sure I’ll kick myself later when I
remember an absolute fave. I have also realised this year that I am an
anomaly in that I only tend to enjoy contemporary romances. (In general,
historicals are OK but they are never on my re-read list).

16 fave romance titles

1.        Welcome to Temptation – Jennifer Crusie
2.        Bet Me- Jennifer Crusie
3.        Agnes and the Hitman – Jennifer Crusie/Bob Mayer
4.        Charlie all Night – Jennifer Crusie
5.        Love Struck – Melanie La’Brooy
6.        Serendipity – Melanie La’Brooy
7.        This Heart of Mine – Susan Elizabeth Phillips
8.        Start Me Up – Victoria Dahl
9.        See Jane Score – Rachel Gibson
10.        Sex, Lies and Online Dating – Rachel Gibson
11.        Over the Edge – Suzanne Brockmann
12.        Hot Target – Suzanne Brockmann
13.        Beauty and the Brain – Elizabeth Bevarly
14.        Taming the Outlaw – Cindy Gerard
15.        The Grande Finale – Janet Evanovich
16.        Night Whispers by Leslie Kelly

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing! I have just quadrupled my TBB pile! Sending you the bill, Maili and Sonomalass.

Monday Morning Stepback –Updated with call for Winsor Lists!!

UPDATE: On October 16, in honor of the birthdate of Kathleen Winsor, author of Forever Amber, please consider posting your top 16 romance novels. Thanks to Maili for idea. If the thought of “all time” faves daunts you, just post what strikes you as 16 of your faves on that day — no commitment to keep the list in perpetuity.

1. Links of interest:

Kristie(j) has a post up at Access Romance Readers’ Gab called “Five Things I’ll Never Say: Confessions of an Avid Reader” which makes me feel, as BevQB beautifully put it, “lower than a subterranean slug” because I am sure I have said one or more of them in my time. Go check it out.

Wendy the Superlibrarian is over at Borders True Romance talking about heroines. And you know I was nodding my head in agreement at the part where she says she wants heroines with backbone. I mean, homo sapiens is a vertebrate species. Are we really asking for too much?

SonomaLass has introduced a new rating system for book reviews: Win and Fail, with Made of Win and Made of Fail reserved for exceptional outliers. It’s brilliant. I am thinking of adopting it for my students (kidding!)

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2. Sometimes, the nicest thing anybody says to me all day … is what my spammers say.

Spam comments like “Nice blog. I visit oftener.” or  “Thank for good job!” or even “их больше было О_о” which I am sure means “You are beautiful and so is your blog!” really make my day, when they are not pissing me the fuck off.

3. Covers

We spend a lot of time talking about covers in Romanceland. Or rather, you guys do. While I dislike misleading covers (sexy covers for chaste books, heroes and heroines not as described by the author, etc.), I honestly don’t care much about them. I thought I might try to be positive and share a few images of those covers I really like but … I can’t think of any.

I think some political and social cover discussions are interesting — the Liar discussion, for example, or this collection of Nurse Romance Novel Covers at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. But when it comes to aesthetics, I draw a blank.

Cover art it is not an art form I really know how to admire. What do you look for in it?

4. When I need a laugh

A lot of folks visit Cakewrecks, which is truly very funny. However, I prefer http://www.Despair.com.  It would be hard to overstate my dislike for motivational posters, on both moral and aesthetic grounds, or for life coaches, motivational speakers, or social media experts. I feel the people at Despair.com understand me perfectly. Here are a few of my favorites:  On cluelessness, on winners, and on madness.

5. Pubic hair

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This is one of those comments I may come to regret, especially if I find out one day that my rabbi or great aunt reads this blog, but I confess that every time I read that a heroine’s pubic hair is “tidy” or “neat”, I get a little nervous. That is probably the only area on my body that I never think about in the third person. Oh sure, I realize it is important try to avoid showing up at the local pool looking like Robin Williams as a preoperative transsexual, but other than that, it’s off my vanity radar.

I first became aware that there are beauty standards for this area of the body by reading JR Ward. Ward’s heroes, instead of thinking, “Am I about to commit a felony with a prepubescent girl? I’m outtie, you feel me?”, when they got a look at the hairless wonder that is the female vampire, seemed to love the idea of — erm — unbuttered bread (?).

Then, I was watching The Girls Next Door — only for research purposes, of course — and I noticed Holly walking down the hallways of the Playboy magazine offices deriding the “bushes” on the cover bunnies of the 1990s.

This is not exactly something you chat about with other moms at the busstop (but it’s perfectly ok to talk about it on your blog, which hundreds of complete strangers read, naturally), so I am ignorant except for my romance novel reading, which more and more frequently seems to refer to women’s — but not men’s — pubic hair in the controlled, tamed, bounded terms of which even Foucault would be proud.

When I grew up, not only did kids walk 10 miles in the snow to get to school, but men had to plow through miles of bush to get to their special destinations. Songs like “Push Push in the Bush” were hits, and Playboy and Penthouse were fighting the “pubic wars” to see who could show more hair down there (for a very NSFW  pictorial of those hairy 1970s centerfolds, visit this blog). I am not sure I am ready for this Shaved New World.

6. We are on fall break, a lovely thing.

Happy week everyone!

Review: Feels Like the First Time, by Tawny Weber

This book contains disguises and virtual sex, and this review condemns the former and praises the latter.

First, we must get preliminary necessities out of the way.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os0F4-XFf6w

Feels-like-the-first-time-cover1-190x300

Now, on to the review…

Author website rating: A (click on the book to visit)

Audio note: I listened to this on audio. Usually, the sex scenes are merely narrated. These were, um, performed.

Warning: This review contains spoilers, but since plot takes a back seat to character in this book, I don’t think knowing them will really spoil anything.

Zoe is a business consultant with a fear of commitment. Dexter (Dex) is a former skinny nerd turned hot man who has made a ton of money in software design as “Gandalf the Gaming Wizard.” In high school, Zoe was the intelligent goth chick, Dex was the geeky friend who secretly crushed on her, and they bonded over their outsider status. Having lost touch, they meet again at their 10th high school reunion.

Zoe attends the reunion on behalf of her brother’s software start-up company, in hopes of discovering the identity of Gandalf (long rumored to be one of Zoe’s classmates since one of his female characters looks just like her) and arranging a business meeting. Dex, for his part, wants to seduce Zoe, but he can’t do it as the successful Gandalf, because then he won’t be sure she wants him, not his money (he’s also left the company Gandalf made rich with a promise not to reveal his identity). He also can’t do it as Dexter, the nerd. So he dresses up as … Aragorn at the reunion costume ball to do it.  Zoe has a fear of commitment, Dex has low self esteem, and neither of them wants to ruin their friendship. I would call this a medium-conflict romance.

There are side plots involving the quarterback who broke Zoe’s heart, the prom queen who is out to get her, Zoe and Dex’s newfound appreciation of their own self-worth among the popular crowd, and Dex’s tarot-reading, naked pool party hosting grandmother.

I really like romances in which the hero has a geeky side, and I also like romances in which the hero knows he is in love with the heroine before she knows it, or returns his feelings, and this one had both. As usual in a Blaze, there were a few explicit scenes, but I liked it that they always meant a lot to Dex, and that he couldn’t help interspersing the sexxoring with affectionate touches and expressions of wonder that he finally, after a decade, had Zoe in his arms.

I also liked it that Dex put his computer skills to good use, hacking Zoe’s computer and encouraging her to engage in avatar sex. It’s about time Harlequins moved into the 21st century. Phone sex is so passé!

As I mentioned above, Dex first seduces Zoe dressed as Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings. She meets and snogs her “masked hottie” twice and she doesn’t guess who he is, despite him having been her BFF in high school and her spending time with him unmasked during the reunion. I found this utterly ridiculous. And kind of unnecessary on Dex’s part.

In all, though, I liked Zoe and Dex, and I enjoyed the renewed-friendship to lovers storyline very much. This was a sexy, sweet, fun read (er, listen). If you like Blazes, I recommend it.

Double Identity Romance: A Rant

I love superhero stories, except for one thing: the fact that the Lois Lanes, Mary Jane Watsons and Rachel Dawes never figure out that when they lust after Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, they are also lusting after their best friends.

How do you like romances in which one character appears as two, and their lover can’t figure it out?  I can think of a couple I’ve read, Judith Ivory’s Beast, and (maybe?) an old Kathleen Woodiwiss, A Rose in Winter, which I barely remember and am about to reread. I know there are more out there — anyone have titles?

Even when the novels are otherwise excellent, there is always a point at which I feel the heroine is being fooled longer than any conscious sober human being could possibly be, and I realize it is the author, not the character, who is keeping the charade going.

On the other hand, such stories have a kind of pathos — especially when, as in the hero/geek dynamic — the woman loves the masked man, and overlooks the unmasked one — which can be really appealing.

Do double identity* stories work for you?

(*I am sure you experts out there have an official name for them, but I couldn’t find it!)

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