Romance and chick lit are not art forms that succeed or fail on originality. Readers and authors alike might chafe at the notion that every romance is the same, save for the hair color of the hero and heroine, and one chick lit novel is only distinguishable from another by the shade of pink on the cover, but those sentiments hold a lot of truth, even if the verbiage is meant to demean. And that truth — that plotlines like Cinderella’s maid to princess tale are told over and over again — is really OK. Really. There is a certain comfort in knowing what a book holds before the first page is read. What isn’t known, and where romance and chick lit have the opportunity to succeed or fail, is with what each author will bring to well used constructs. It’s the reworking of the familiar and injection of freshness into the staid that makes a twice (or more) told tale something that stands out. Without those elements, romance and chick lit become caricatures of themselves.
Alesia Holliday’s Seven Ways to Lose Your Lover is intended as a lighthearted romp through the minefield of personals relationships. Its goal isn’t any loftier than to entertain. The end result is decidedly mixed, as it’s too easy to see the well worn elements and not easy enough to see the freshness.
The PBR reviewer family is growing and we couldn’t be happier about it. L.J. Schmidt not only reads romance—since the long ago days when she swiped them from her parents’ bedroom—she also spends her days in a bookstore giving thirty second reviews of romances to fans of the genre. We are tickled that L.J. has agreed to share her incisive critical analysis here at PBR. Welcome L.J.!
Long running, single protagonist series might be one of the most difficult things to pull off in fiction. On one end of the spectrum there are Robert Parker’s Spenser books where Spenser never ages, never evolves, he just keeps solving those crimes. The sameness and lack of growth quickly become frustrating. And on the other end is Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series where the characters do move forward and change and in the process loose that precious something that made the reader want more of them. Through four books in the Hollows series, Kim Harrison has neatly avoided these divergent issues with a layered heroine, Rachel Morgan, who is equal parts kick-butt and vulnerable and inhabits a universe that is strife-rich in design and richer still by Rachel’s actions.
**No, this isn’t really a new contest. We’re extending the contest from last week until Saturday. On your mark…get set…hunt!**
We had so much fun with the scavenger hunts in May, that we’ve planned hunts for all of July too. As with the previous hunts, all answers can be found on the internet.
1. Alison Kent’s 1997 Harlequin Temptation release, The Grinch Makes Good, featured a cover model who appeared on some other 250 covers (hint: usually as a brunette). What’s his name?
2. The One Named Wonder of romance covers first hit shelves in June of 1987 on Joanna Lindsey’s Hearts Aflame. In how many movies has he made a cameo as himself?
3. Who is the Topaz Man who appeared on the step-back cover of Penelope Williamson’s Once in a Blue Moon?
As usual, DO NOT POST ANSWERS IN THE COMMENTS, send them to us here. One winner will be randomly selected from all correct entries and announced next Saturday. Happy hunting.
It would seem romance is a genre that easily lends itself to camp. The larger-than-life heroes, the too-good-to-be-true heroines, the often overwrought storylines, and most especially the clinch covers–with the flowing locks and bare chests–are undertaken with a seriousness that belies the pulp nature of this form of entertainment. That more romances don’t come off as campy is, frankly, surprising and likely a testament to the skill of romance authors which manage to take their material seriously enough for it to be engaging and compelling; but not so serious that the material is easily ridiculous. Nina Bangs’ novel Wicked Pleasure, on the other hand, doesn’t find this balance and, despite a humorous style, falls firmly into camp.
Just in time for wedding season, Catch of the Day arrives with wedding themed novellas by Whitney Lyles, Beverly Brandt, Cathie Linz and Pamela Clare. This anthology offers readers a quick and uncomplicated dip into stories that stay tightly focused on the hero and heroine, while wading through bridal bouquets, pre-wedding jitters, extreme ceremonies, and ugly bridesmaid dresses. Like any wedding, Catch of the Day‘s crescendos are well planned and well carried out and conversely the low points are as painful and disastrous as a fumbled wedding cake.
Harlequin’s new imprint Spice, is the stalwart publisher’s entry into the hot, and increasingly bloated, erotic fiction marketplace. If erotic fiction and Harlequin—the publishing home of countless 30 year old, virginal heroines and conflict that can always be resolved in a precise number of pages with a ring and a pregnancy—seem an unlikely and uneasy partnership, that’s because they are. Spice’s aim is to offer the women clamoring for super hot, non-traditional reads, erotic fiction that isn’t bogged down with all that sex. The result is a line of books that shines bright lights into shadowed corners, smoothes out the rough edges, and generally feels like a favorite strip club that is now run by Disneyland.
There is a crux in fiction, a contract between the author and the reader regarding the suspension of disbelief. Readers are willing to step into fictitious worlds and accept the reality presented within and in return authors make those fictitious worlds feel real. What readers are willing to buy into ranges from the impossible to the highly unlikely. In Steam Punk, readers accept a Victorian setting with modern day technology. In Science Fiction, readers accept that humans—or human like species – populate the vast reaches of the universe, traveling and communicating through means that are purely speculation on the author’s part. In romance, readers time and again believe that a playboy will give up his multiple bed partners for that one special woman or that a prince will marry a peasant girl. To aid this disregard of reality, fiction must be couched and grounded in something plausible: readers accept the implausible 200 year old vampire, Louis, in Ann Rice’s Interview With The Vampire because despite Louis’ drinking of blood, rising with the moon, and immortality, he is mired in emotions so human every reader can relate. When fiction is burdened with characters and storylines that strain credibility on top of asking for the usual suspension of disbelief, fiction is doomed to failure. Such is the case with Colleen Thompson’s The Deadliest Denial.
Erotica or erotic romance: that is the question. All playing hard and fast with Hamlet aside, there are a lot questions, still, about what erotic romance is, where the boundary between romance and erotic romance is, and where then the dividing line between erotic romance and erotica exists. Questions abound; definitive answers, do not. Divisions, categories and labels create a slippery slope for who gets to decide what fiction belongs where. Does Reader A’s opinion supersede Reader B’s if they don’t agree on what level of sexuality is too much for a simple romance label or what level isn’t enough for an erotic tag? It’s a quagmire for certain, one that Black Lace has stepped into with its re-release of Pamela Rochford’s 1997 title Dangerous Consequences.
Every first novel has an interesting story of its road to publication. Interesting, at least, for the author. Few have a story that would interest anyone else. Of the tens of thousands of works of fiction that come into the marketplace every year, few have a tale like A Confederacy of Dunces which was published eleven years after author John Kennedy Toole’s suicide (a suicide widely attributed to Toole’s publishing failures) and only after the book was championed by Toole’s mother. Once released, it won a loyal and rabid fan base, and went on to take the Pulitzer. In the end, it’s a success story, the rarity of which authors everywhere should be thankful for.
Caitlin Scott-Turner’s journey to publication doesn’t rival Toole’s, but it is worth repeating. Her first novel, The Queen’s Fencer was written two and a half decades ago. At the time, it was very nearly published, only to fall through the cracks. After years of languishing, the novel was self-published before finding its way to the small press Five Star. Yes, more than a quarter century later, Scott-Turner’s novel was published.