For a story to be engaging for a reader there must be a connection. Whether that connection comes via a relationship with the protagonist, antagonist, or plot, does not matter; simply that it exists to spur the reader on to read until the end. If this connection does not exist there reader will become bored, and the plot holes or character flaws that they would have forgiven for the sake of the story become obvious. Under intense scrutiny the story itself may fall apart as it did with Alex McAulay’s Lost Summer.
The debate over what constitutes “erotica” versus “erotic romance” versus…well, versus whatever descriptive the book-buying public is using at that moment to define these sexy works, is one guaranteed to drive even the most level-headed reader to hunt down the nearest bottle of pain relievers. The definitions are murky. The marketing purposely misleading. The availability of titles growing, perhaps too much. The authors traveling from publisher to publisher making any distinction between publishers even harder to ascertain.
An otherwise intelligent person could get confused.
Into this mess walked publishing giant HarperCollins. A bit later to the genre party than other publishing houses such as Kensington and Berkley, HarperCollins launched its own brand of erotica with the Avon Red imprint. Avon Red’s books are self-described on the imprint’s website as: “…the best, most sophisticated erotic fiction available in the industry…” If the launch single title Swept Away by Toni Blake is any indication, the definition should include the word “romance” in bright, shining letters because the focus of Swept Away is, and stays on, a romance.
When I signed on to Paperback Reader, I inserted a clause in my agreement to the effect that there would be a team review of Welcome To Temptation during my first year of employment. In retrospect, I probably should have gone for the signing bonus. You live, you learn.
So, what with one thing and the other, a year passed, but the dream remained alive (also, I forgot to insert language about what would happen if said review failed to materialize). And…here it is. A review of Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. It should probably go without saying, but there is not a single unbiased word in the lengthy discussion Wendy and I had. We didn’t even attempt to fake impartiality. Had someone (name withheld, but initials are HK) kept her promise to read with us, maybe things would be different. We’ll never know, will we?
Welcome to Temptation is the story of a girl, her family, and her dog. Or maybe it’s the story of a boy, his town’s water tower, and his pool table. Sophie Dempsey comes to Temptation with her sister Amy to film a screen test for D-list movie star, Clea Whipple. Phineas Tucker, mayor of Temptation (three generations and counting), learns that there might be loose women (and possibly a porn flick being produced) out at the Whipple farm. Phin isn’t opposed to loose women on principle — too bad because Sophie’s wound so tight with nerves, she might snap.
Which means, yes, porn is happening, but only the vanilla kind, and Sophie is sure she’s going to be thrown out town pronto. What happens next? Political maneuvering, phallic, flesh-colored water towers, family strife, thwarted ambition, con games, blackmail, apparent murder, softball games, and pool. Not necessarily in that order. Suffice to say that a lot of paint was sacrificed in the making of this story.
What? You want a detailed, linear synopsis? Better that you read the book. But read our review first. We gush.
Back at the dawn of the chicklit era, authors like Helen Fielding and Melissa Banks were getting a lot of attention (even though I still remain confused by Melissa Banks’ inclusion on the chicklit list). However, a select, savvy group of readers were hip to an author who largely slipped under the media radar: Marian Keyes.
Keyes is an Irish author who writes bitingly funny, painfully real stories about modern day Irish women and the troubles that foil them. Keyes’ depiction of her country – much drinking, smoking, drugging, shopping, and middle class mores – is short on the mystical, magical, woo-woo that passes for Ireland in romance fiction. Since I much prefer the Irish of The Pogues, I couldn’t be happier.
The primitiveness of 1136 Scotland can make the modern mind shiver. Those pesky Romans were gone from England but the Normans had come and conquered and subsequently left their mark on: the English language (the beginnings of its modern version anyway), the monarchy, and well, sufficed to say, Western history. Outside of the political arena the daily lives of average folks were pretty tough. There was no Costco back then. Which might not matter as there was also no refrigeration to keep five gallon tubs of mayonnaise fresh. For that matter, there were also no cell phones, TiVo, internet, cars, or anything approaching modern convenience. It actually gets much worse than no electricity, there was also no public sanitation (that’s for humans or livestock). It would be another seven or eight hundred years before people started to bathe regularly (and by people, that means: people with money; and by regularly: that doesn’t mean daily). Given the harsh and unhygienic conditions, it’s no surprise that the life expectancy was only in the early thirties. All things considered, it was a dicey time.
The time has come to throw back the curtain and provide a sneak peek into the inner workings of PBR. If you believe all of the book discussions resemble refined Oprah Book Club teas, prepare to be disappointed. The behind-the-scenes action here at PBR is not all that sophisticated at times. In fact, the words “rugby match” come to mind.
The process starts simply enough. Books arrive from authors, from publishers, from PR professionals and, every now and then, from actual bookstores following the exchange of money or credit between PBR reviewers and said bookstores. We pass around titles and upcoming releases. But sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – a book just sits there and manages to create controversy.
Enter the anthology Hell With The Ladies by Julie Kenner, Kathleen O’Reilly and Dee Davis.
There are times when I feel like I need to confess the awful truth to Wendy and HelenKay (and, well, Lorna and L.J.). This is one of them. When it comes to picking books for review, I have almost no process. I pretend I do, and sometimes that pretending leads to an actual thoughtful choice.
But mostly it’s a matter of serendipity mixed with my desire to read where no reviewer has read before. But it’s the serendipity that seems to lead me to the most interesting books. In the case of Lady Anne’s Dangerous Man by Jeane Westin, I was poking through the teetering book pile, desperately seeking something new and different to read. Not even for review. I just wanted something that would let me escape for a little while. I was aiming for disposable but interesting.
One of the most perplexing trends to take a hold of romance is the demonization of the press. Through category and single titles alike, journalists have become the easy go-to villain. In contemporary romance, being part of the media is as telling a character trait as the black hat in westerns of old. The reader need not be given anything beyond that one word: press. Authors who utilize this characterization shorthand might as well substitute Satan for press for all the evilness the press has come to symbolize in romance. What is, perhaps, even more perplexing is why. Really, why? Do the average romance author and the average romance reader really share the common enemy of the media? Since neither readers, nor writers, of romance show up in mainstream media or are the subjects of gonzo paparazzi the common enemy theory seems unlikely.
Having been a part of the counter-culture of high school arts kids (albeit as theater geek as opposed to a band nerd) I thought I had a pretty good impression of the band experience. Of course, I never went to a high school with an actual marching band, and definitely not one where the role of drum major was such a hotly contested and fought over title as in Jennifer Echols’ Major Crush. And even if I had, I hardly think the experience would have been as entertaining.
Some books defy easy definition. These books may best be described by what they aren’t. A promise of a suspense not met. A romance focused only on the chase and not on the catch. A vampire tale less about vampires than about societal pressures. If a book isn’t as suspenseful as advertised, or isn’t really a romantic as hoped, disgruntled readers tend to rise up and complain of missed expectations. But, other times a book has just enough of everything to be enticing. Kimberly Raye’s Dead End Dating falls into the latter category.