Shayla Black’s Wicked Ties is the most baffling of books, the kind that manages to be greater than the sum of its parts. It isn’t alone in that. There are plenty of books that should be tossed aside and disliked for whatever reason. And yet they aren’t. They can’t be, because somehow they rise above plot issues, or character issues or any number of craft foibles to be compelling and compulsively readable. Likeable…in spite of themselves. Wicked Ties does all that: gives the reader a plot that begs to have its Swiss cheese holes exposed; characters that are archetypes; and a general feeling that the only way to improve the situation is to throw the book against the nearest wall. Any yet throwing the book isn’t an option because valuable reading time would be lost. And for whatever else Wicked Ties is, it’s a book that, once started, demands to be read.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose make the holidays, and curling up with a good book, all the better. The same goes for romances; there is always the hope that holiday themed romances will deliver a seasonal magic and the burden of disbelief will be lessen in the season of miracles. Or, at least, that’s the wish. In the case of Sugar and Spice – an anthology featuring Christmas themed romances from Fern Michaels, Beverly Barton, Joanne Fluke and Shirley Jump – that’s not entirely the case.
It happens every now and then. You see a book, look away and then walk back and pick it up. The author’s name is familiar but you’ve never read her. You like the title, think the cover blurb sounds promising and decide…why not?
Then you get it home and realize the book is a bit different than you thought. It’s not a standalone title. It’s one in an ongoing series where the hero and heroine and their relationship date back two books. These folks already love each other. The courtship is over. You missed that part, which makes you wonder what’s left to discover about these two. Sure, J.D. Robb manages to keep the interest alive in her “In Death” series with Eve and Roarke. Your book also revolves around a wealthy, sexy hero and a tough-talking heroine and a mystery of some sort. So…maybe Suzanne Enoch can pull it off? And, for the most part, she does.
For all the criticisms that can be leveled at romance – and there are many – it’s easy to lose sight of what a fostering environment romance can be for young writers. Devoted readers of the genre are often quite forgiving of green and otherwise unprofessional debut efforts. The sense is, as long as there is promise in a young author, the rough spots can be forgiven for what is to come. Sometimes there is a tremendous payoff for that patience (Jude Deveraux comes to mind for having penned a spectacularly faulty first novel and then improved as her career grew), and other times, nothing comes from the buried promise of a first book. It is then a treat for those nurturing readers when a debut comes along for which allowances need not be made. In the rarest of rarified debut novel air, are first books that do not read like first books at all, but more like the product of an author in her prime. And, that is exactly how Jana DeLeon’s debut Rumble on the Bayou plays out: like it’s the product of a professional.
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.
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.
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.
HelenKay: Trouble in High Heels highlights the fine difference between an imaginary scenario and a truly unbelievable one. The former may qualify as solid fiction if accompanied by strong writing, fully developed characters and a unique voice. But combine that questionable plot with flat characters and the only thing the reader gets is a long, dull read.