On the cover of DIRTY by Megan Hart are these three word: An Erotic Novel. Published by Spice Books, the story makes no claim to be an erotic romance, nor does it pass itself off as a work of women’s fiction with erotic elements. It simply states that it is an erotic novel. The question that might then follow is whether or not the story in an erotic novel should succeed or fail based on its level of eroticism. In other words, does the tale that is told need to turn on a vital erotic component, or is it enough that it offers readers detailed scenes of explicit sex?
Julie Garwood is a member of my personal romance pantheon. While she’s written some clunkers, she’s also given me many hours of reading pleasure (oh my, do I just adore the heck out of Castles). That makes this a difficult review to write. Because Shadow Dance isn’t a bad book…it’s just not the book it could (or should!) be.
Since making her move to romantic suspense (I know, HK, I know), Garwood has also been name-checking two previous series – the “Roses” series and, for lack of a better name, the “Medieval” series. To achieve this feat, she has brought together a descendants of the Claybornes from the Roses series, and the Buchanans (see Ransom. among the other Medievals) and the MacKennas (who apparently didn’t appear in any of Garwood’s previous books — fact-checkers will be working overtime to verify this — but they’ve been feuding for centuries with the Buchanans). This will all come together, I swear.
There’s little room for surprise in the clockwork art that is genre fiction. What is expected of the formula is, after all, the expected. But fiction, good fiction, needs the element of surprise, some bit of plot or character or device that isn’t as expected. It is in the unanticipated, the unforeseen, the unpredicted that talent shines brightest and readers are given something memorable. Debut author Colleen Gleason has neatly sidestepped the issue of triteness with The Rest Falls Away, by stretching and straddling genre boundaries. The result is a story that isn’t strictly a romance or strictly a paranormal or strictly a Regency. It’s a romance without a central love story, a paranormal that never looses sight of the fact that vampires are monsters, and a Regency whose heroine has something besides the ton on her mind. All that makes for a read that surprises.
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.
Eloisa James is a fine writer, a sharp crafter of words, and a good storyteller. Her latest release, the fourth and final installment of the Essex sisters’ stories, Pleasure for Pleasure, is a first-rate example of each of those points: the narrative is charming, the dialog is rapier swift, and the telling both elegant and engaging. It’s odd then to also find, amongst all that good writing, little in the way of cohesive plot. Odder still to make that claim of a four hundred page book. But, the fact is, there’s not a lot of there there in Pleasure for Pleasure. And oddest yet, the book is thoroughly enjoyable despite it.
You know how it goes — I read a gazillion books a year. Sometimes they blur together, especially if I go on a bender. Things can get weird when that happens. Like when I (accidentally) pick up a Linda Howard book in the grocery store. Honest, I meant to get orange juice, but I went in the wrong entrance.
I digress. So, being a good citizen (I have a badge in Book Buying), I read the back cover. Okay, this was mostly because I never know who might be reporting back to my husband, and I wanted to create the impression that thought went into this purchase. And I’m reading and I’m thinking and I’m trying to remember, “Did I read this before?” Then, being of sound mind and marginally okay body, I realized the book was a sequel.
Through what can only be viewed as a quirk of fate, I found myself in a situation where there were only two books on my desk. Setting aside the fact that someone cleaned my personal space without my express permission – I am now unable to find anything – I was in a quandary. It was time to select my next review vict— book. Choices? A book called Viva Las Bad Boys! versus a book called Scoop.
For professional as well as personal reasons, I went with the latter book.
As I confessed in a previous review, there is a certain element of randomness when it comes my book selection process. I judge books by covers, by clever synopses, by really bad synopses, and, sometimes, by guilt. For example, let’s say someone sends me a book for review and I haven’t gotten to it, then I get an email reminding me that this book is in my possession, and guilt nudges me, saying “You should at least open the package.”
Rest assured that this latter scenario rarely happens. But a week or so ago, I received a friendly reminder from a publicist suggesting that I should have received, read, and loved Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince. Whoa there, I thought, you think I get around to this stuff in a day or two? You don’t know me.
And of course I’m also thinking that I’m going to show this publicist. You get all “you’re gonna love this book” with me, and I’ll show you. Take that and that and that.
wd: Since PBR came into being, the most debated books have been Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation. Apples and oranges for certain and a testament to our divergent tastes. Unlike the Crusie title – for which Kassia and I were eager, but for too long lacked the time to discuss – the talk about Outlander wasn’t of the sort that implies fervor. The deliberations went a bit like this:
Me: Let’s do Outlander.
Anonymous fellow reviewer: I’d rather be staked out on ant hill and covered in honey.
Repeat ad infinitum with the occasional substitution of torture method and you get the idea. While it’s been frustrating to want to talk about a book and to not find that desire reciprocated, the polarization that Outlander has caused here is endemic of the schism it has created in the larger romance community. There are those who passionately love Jamie and Claire’s story, and those who hate the very idea of the books. I have to admit that I am addicted to the Outlander series…while I’m reading it. When I’m not reading, I ardently wish I’d never picked the books up. The never-ending-series that it has become weighs me down and dampens my excitement for the story.
(lf: Let me horn in here to say that as a fervent fan of Ms. Gabaldon’s, I too look askance at each new entry in the series. I’ve had Breath of Snow and Ashes on my shelf since it was published last year, working up the gumption to take a running leap at it. The Outlander books demand a huge investment in time and emotional energy and are not for the weak.)
Nonetheless, when Lorna joined us I knew the discussion that I was so impatient for would soon be underway. Years ago, the first conversation Lorna and I had – beyond, hello nice to meet you – was about the Outlander series. We were united in our general passion for all things Gabaldon while being divided by our thoughts on specific points. That seemed a lovely place to begin a discussion, and it was with great enthusiasm that Lorna and I launched into Outlander. We quickly found that our conversation about Jamie and Claire and all that happens to them, to be completely overwhelming. It’s nearly impossible to discuss Outlander while leaving all those other books and continuing storylines untouched; but we managed to, mostly. What follows is our very long chat about Outlander.
I’m going to confess yet another reviewer secret: it’s the medium books that are the hardest. Loving a book is easy. Hating a book is pure reviewer joy. Enjoying a book for all the wrong reasons is a delight. But the lukewarm books are killer.
This is my second go-round with Rachel Gibson’s True Confessions, and it’s almost weird that my second reaction largely mirrors the first: I had a good time, but not enough to remember it a year from now. Which is a shame, because this time, as I read, I kept thinking, “Man, she’s a good writer.”