RRR Questionnaire Extraordinaire: Rosario of Rosario's Reading Journal

Rosario’s blog is Rosario’s Reading Journal

Tagline: “Book reviews from a Uruguayan reader”

About: “Reviews, reviews and more reviews.”

Rosario’s was one of the first blogs I found when I entered Romanceland, and I came to admire her to-the-point reviewing style, and the depth and breadth of her knowledge of the genre.  I mentioned Rosario in my very first post back on August 3, 2008:

I’d like to remember what I’ve read and how those books struck me when I read them. The model for the “review and record” aspect of this blog is Rosario, whose blog is one of my inspirations.

I have also long admired her singleness of purpose and incredible organization. Rosario’s Reading Journal is a terrific example of doing one thing and doing it very well. Her first post is dated August 26, 2002. She wrote:

My first post! I’ll be back as soon as I figure out what I’m doing.

Well, she did come back, and she has been coming back for nearly 8 years, to the tune of over 1500 reviews.

I was so pleased when Rosario managed to find time in her busy schedule to answer a slew of questions. I found her reflections fascinating. I hope you do, too.

0. When did you start reading romances?

I started reading romance novels in my early teens, but I had unknowingly been looking for them since I can remember. Even when really young and with books that weren’t romances, I was always drawn to whatever little romance there was in them. Mi grandpa had the entire collection of Emilio Salgari’s adventure novels (80+ of them!), and I remember digging into those when I was about 7 or 8. There was a bit of everything there, but the ones I’d reread again and again were books with good romances in them, like Captain Storm, which starred a Venetian countess who dressed up as a knight to fight in the war and fell in love with an Ottoman warrior, the Lion of Damascus. I haven’t read it in ages, so I don’t know how good it might have been, but back then, I loved it to pieces.

I then went on to Victoria Holt and all the rest of her pseudonyms and, finally in my early teens, discovered Harlequins and a couple of Janet Dailey novels my mom had in her shelves. That was a revelation: books where the romance was the whole point of the story, and I didn’t have to dig through piles of stuff that didn’t really interest me just to find a few nuggets? Brilliant. Soon after that, I found Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Shanna (in my school library, of all places) and started looking for other historical romances in bookshops.

This was Uruguay in the early 90s, though, so it was all a bit hit or miss. The couple of bookstores that ordered books in English didn’t order specific books, it was just by the box, and they got whatever their supplier had a surplus of. It wasn’t until the internet came along that I started being able to find out about specific titles. I made my first order from Amazon in 1998 (and paid about twice as much for shipping to Uruguay as I did for the actual books, ouch!) and never looked back.

1. What motivated you to start your blog?

The most prosaic of reasons: I needed to practice my English. I attended a bilingual school in Uruguay, but by 2002 I’d been out of regular English classes for 6 years. Because I wasn’t practicing my written English, writing even a simple, two-paragraph email was a chore and took me an hour. Obviously, the only way to fix that was to start regularly writing in that language again, but I knew that unless I found a reason to actually want to do so, I’d give up after the first few times. I needed to write about something I was passionate about and I needed to have a purpose, and a romance review blog was the best I could come up with.

2. How has it changed over the years?

Not much, really. There have been cosmetic changes, like adding images, and doing a single post for each book (for the first months I’d post about a book as I went along in my reading, so I’d have several posts about a single title), but not much else. Although, well, I want to think that the quality of my reviews has increased as I’ve got more practice!

3. Most review blogs do other things besides reviews, but you have stayed true to your review mission. Have you ever felt tempted to write another kind of post? Why or why not?

At the beginning I did try to post a few different things… personal news, opinion pieces, comments about industry developments, links to interesting articles, memes, that sort of thing. I soon realised I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it. I felt like I couldn’t hit on the right tone. I’d come back to something I’d written and think “what a pretentious git” :-D  What I’ve never been too interested in doing is promo. While I don’t mind a little of it in industry blogs or websites, it’s not what I’m looking for in personal blogs, so I won’t put it in mine. I’ve learnt to stick to what I like (and hopefully, do well!).

4. How have your reading tastes changed over the years, if at all?

I’m pickier about quality now (some of the books I gave As to in 2002… oy!), but what I’m looking for in a book hasn’t actually changed all that much. Of course, when I first started reading romance there was still a lot of bodice-ripping going on and way too many alpha-asshole “heroes” and feisty hair-tossing, foot-stamping child-like heroines, but even though I read those books, I always hated those elements, and wished I could get my romance without having to put up with them. I just didn’t have the choice at the time, and I’m very happy I do now.

5. Do you think the romance genre has changed? What are some of the most significant changes in your eyes?

I know lots of readers feel that the genre has become homogeneous over the years, with fewer and fewer settings and authors constantly jumping on whatever the new big trend is, but I think it’s more complicated than that. In terms of who the protagonists can be, in my opinion, there’s much more variety. It’s most obvious with heroines, and I do love that. These days female characters can be strong, they can go toe to toe with the hero and actually win (without then being punished for it, either), they can be sexually experienced, they can make mistakes and be flawed, and they’re still allowed to be heroines. As for the heroes, although the over-the-top alpha is still as popular as ever, I feel different conceptions of masculinity have become acceptable in romance novels now.

6. How do you foresee the romance genre changing in the next decade?

I think romance novels do reflect contemporary sensibilities, only they run a few years behind what’s happening in the real world. So I would expect heroines in contemps to continue to become more like real contemporary women (too many today read 30 years older than they’re supposed to be) and HEAs to reflect more of the variety that I see all around me (couples choosing not to have children, the man being the one to stay home with the kids, etc.).

Also, it seems to me the YA and romance genres have began to mix quite a bit, with many romance readers also going for YA in a big way, and many YA books containing really lovely romances. So maybe in the next few years, as YA readers grow up, they’ll start seeking out romance novels. Hopefully that will lead to more of what I described above and even to a narrowing of that gap, but it might also lead to more fights about the definition of romance, as YA readers seem to be more flexible about their HEAs.

And of course, it probably doesn’t even need to be said that there will be new big trends and it will seem every author is jumping on them (which trends? Ah, if only I had that crystal ball! I can only hope the next one is steampunk romance, which seems to be taking off a bit lately).

7. How has your life changed from 2002 to 2010? Are your life changes reflected in your reading choices, or in the way you blog?

My life now is nothing like it was in 2002. Romance novels are probably one of the very few constants, actually! Back then I lived in Uruguay, with my parents and had a job which, while a good learning opportunity, wasn’t really going anywhere. I now live in England, in my own house, and have a proper career I love.

I’d never thought of it, but this (especially moving to England) really has impacted on my reading choices. When I was in Uruguay I was reading almost exclusively romance, with a smattering of mystery. That was mainly because AAR was the only place I could get recommendations I trusted enough to actually go through the trouble and considerable expense of getting the books all the way to Uruguay. Not to mention, mass markets are a lot cheaper and lighter than anything else (ergo, lower shipping charges), and my Uruguayan pesos didn’t buy too many dollars back during the big recession we had in 2002. Now I’ve got access to a pretty good library system and my salary is in pounds (yeah, not *that* great these days), so I’m trying a lot more of other stuff, especially non fiction, knowing that I can just drop books after 20 pages if they don’t interest me. Unfortunately, I’m also reading less than I did, as I have less time and more other things competing for it.

8. What was “Romanceland” like — if it even existed — when you started out in 2002?

At the time, Romanceland for me was just the All About Romance boards and the yahoo groups associated with them. I know there were other places I didn’t frequent, but they were along similar lines… message boards and email lists. The romance blogosphere just didn’t exist. The only other romance-related blog I was aware of was the one that Laurie, from AAR, had just started. In fact, it was hers that gave me the idea of starting one myself. Wendy the Superlibrarian started hers soon after, but that was it for quite a while. For the first year or so, I didn’t get more than a couple of comments from romance readers (which might be why I don’t particularly care about traffic figures, even today).

In terms of the discussions themselves, the biggest difference that comes to mind is that now there is a general acceptance about the value of negative reviews that just wasn’t all that general back then. These days pretty much all authors accept that readers and reviewers have the right not to like their books and say so (even if there are still arguments about the appropriate tone to use), but in 2002 there was a lot more of the “how dare you!!!!” attitude, both from authors and other readers.

9. What has surprised you the most about how the online romance community has changed since 2002?

Its meteoric growth. New blogs and sites pop up practically every day, and whatever sort of involvement you want, you’ll be able to find a place for yourself.

10. What has made you the most happy about the way Romanceland has changed since 2002?

The sheer size and variety of it now, and the fact that there are plenty of places where I can get the level and depth of analysis of issues that I like (including your blog, and I’m not just saying that because you’re interviewing me *g*). The one internet kerfuffle I’m still pissed off about after all these years is one that happened in AAR’s message boards. There was a group of posters who’d have the most wonderful, in-depth discussions, which I relished reading (I’d actually save their posts to read when I had time to enjoy them properly), but they were basically ran off the boards by a group of idiots that complained that they were hogging the discussion and that their posts were too long and made them feel dumb (some people now deny that’s how it was, but those are my memories of the episode, and I’m sticking to them. People actually did say that the posts made them feel dumb). Of course, these days, those great posters would just set up their own blogs and they’d be pretty easy to find, but back then, I had no way of finding out where they’d gone and it was really annoying.

11. Are you dismayed at all by any of the changes in the online romance community?

Oh, dear, I feel like I’m picking on AAR, but here goes. I find the us-vs-them mentality towards blogs that I perceive in their boards quite upsetting. Just to make myself completely clear, this is not something that’s coming from the people who run them, but from several frequent and long-time posters. I’ve been visiting forever and ever, years before I even started my blog (gosh, come to think of it, I think I was actually in my teens when I first followed LLB over from The Romance Reader!), and it’s always been a big part of my reading life, so it’s sad to be made to feel unwelcome by a minority of loud twits.

12. What, if anything, do you feel is missing in the online romance community? How do you foresee it growing in the next decade?

That’s a tough one. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously realised anything was missing in the romance community until it (whatever “it” was) showed up. I suppose I’d like a bit more of an international perspective, sometimes. Most of the bloggers I’m aware of live in the English-speaking world (even me, now!), and I’d love to hear more from, oh, I don’t know, all those people who read Mills & Boon in India, or whoever’s reading the Spanish translations of single titles I see when I go back to Latin America.

How do I foresee the community growing? Well, “growing” is the operative word here. It will only keep growing. There might be more formats (like a lot of the discussion has moved to twitter now), but it will still be there years from now.

13. What are some blogs you enjoy reading?

I follow a ridiculous number of blogs, but my absolute favourites are Dear Author, The Book Smugglers, Wendy the Superlibrarian, KristieJ’s , jmc’s, and Aneca’s World . I’ve also got a few on my Google reader that haven’t been too active for a while, in the perpetual hope they’ll start blogging regularly again. Those include Jennie’s B(ook)log, ReneeW, Tara Marie, And yours. I did mention I enjoy yours, right? [Thank you, Rosario, for reading the fine print in the RRR interview contract.]

14. I don’t notice you making many comments on other blogs — although I am happy to see you on Twitter. Why not?

Oh, but I do comment, only not as much as I used to, I’m afraid. I’m always too late now! Since I travel quite a lot, most of my blog reading (and I do follow quite a few, just see above) is now done on my phone, and I just don’t find that conducive to writing comments. I can do the “I  liked that book, too!” kind of thing there, but not proper comments. I’ll often mark posts as unread to comment the next time I’m at a normal computer, but by that time, the discussion has either moved on or someone has made the point I wanted to make, so I just let it go.

15. One of your all time favorite authors is Nora Roberts. What are your favorite books by Nora? Have you found her books have changed over time? In what ways?

My top fave is one that doesn’t come up a lot, Midnight Bayou. [Rosario's review here.] Strong, interesting heroine, beta, dreamy hero, atmospheric setting and a really unique paranormal subplot. I also have a soft spot for Born in Fire (it was my first Nora ever, and the romance is almost a prototype of the Eve and Roarke relationship, which I also love) [Rosario's reread review here.]  and Birthright [Rosario's review here].

Nora’s books I feel have changed less than the genre as a whole, but that’s because her books always felt more modern and up-to-date, and the others have only been closing the gap in that respect. Back in the 90s, when anyone made the argument that the reason even contemporary heroines in their 30s had to be virgins was that otherwise they wouldn’t sell, I always brought up Nora’s success. *Her* heroines didn’t need to find contrived excuses to be virgins, and that didn’t make her sell any fewer books!

16. What is a new favorite author or book?

I’ve found plenty of wonderful new authors in the past few years, but Meljean Brook is the clear standout. Her Guardian series is amazing, with both excellent romances and a world that is fascinating and complex, yet completely coherent. Oh. And great writing. My favourite thing about the writing is that not everything is spelt out, and you feel like the author trusts your intelligence enough to understand.

17. How long do you think you will keep writing romance reviews?

Until I stop enjoying it and it becomes a chore, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon!

Thank you, Rosario!!

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