There are some books written to be savored and pondered, thought about and argued over long after the final words have been read. There are others that do not aspire to such lofty heights. Instead they seek to momentarily entertain, asking only that the reader step into their pages and go along for the ride. Most of romance is the momentary variety; disposable even. Read it once, enjoy it or not, and then there isn’t a need to think on it again. Cheryl Holt’s newest historical romance, Too Wicked to Wed, should be of the fleeting sort. The romance is engineered to be light reading, the plot is not complicated enough to inspire deep thought. The result is strongly crafted diversionary entertainment. On that front, Too Wicked to Wed succeeds at what it sets out to do. On the whole, however, it is not as ephemeral as it should be. Holt makes story choices that feel uncomfortably like moral judgments and the discomfort generated lingers beyond the fiction and ultimately overshadow the romance.
So, in the course of my work on the RomanceWiki (yes, that was a shameless plug!), I noticed a pattern. One book was consistently a reader favorite, repeatedly noted as an influence, and considered a classic of romantic suspense. It did not escape my notice that, typically, I’d somehow neglected to devour Linda Howard’s Dream Man, and I resolved to fix that problem, well, you know how it goes when you have more books than time.
One of the worst-kept secrets at Paperback Reader is that we love to force our personal favorites on each other. I won’t bore you with the behind-the-scenes process, but somehow this is one of HelenKay’s favorites…so it makes sense that L.J. and I are reviewing the book.
I have just read the recently posted review by my fellow Heyer worshipper, Kassia, where she ponders the question of when a lengthy series reaches its “use by” date. This problem is not limited just to romances. In all the genres, storylines can span anywhere from two to an infinite number of books. The most common is the infamous trilogy with a single story stretched out over three books, à la Lord of the Rings. While there are longer single-story series (like Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time, which at last count is up to book eleven, not including the prequel), usually those that go beyond three are “stand alone” where each book is complete in itself, such as JD Robb’s In Death or Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series.
Lorna Freeman and I both worship happily at the altar of Georgette Heyer. We discovered this the usual way. You know how it goes…you enter into casual conversation with a new friend, “Hey, wow, so you like Regencies?” She says, “I’ve been known to read a few in my day.” You look at the ground and say shyly, “So, read any Heyer?” She’s far cooler than you, but not quite sure where the conversation is going. “Some.”
You grow bold. This is a rare moment. Probably not to repeated in this century You say, “So, wanna co-review Black Sheep with me?”
Much to your surprise and happiness, she agrees. Eagerly. You have found a soul mate. Which is good, because Black Sheep is all about soul mates. The good kind, the you-honestly-believe-these-people-are-meant-for-each-other kind, the you want this romance to go on forever kind. Black Sheep is romance at its best. Trust us. We’ve hardly every lied to you.
In order to succeed, fiction must have story sustaining conflict that keeps characters’ backs against the wall as they fight against the bad guys, against themselves, against god, against whatever can be thrown at them. Conflict needs to rise as the story progresses, but it also needs to rise in believable-in-keeping-with-the-story fashion. A man, for example, who wakes to find a price on his life, might then flee only to have every avenue of escape cut off: his car gone, his back accounts drained, his network of support suddenly vanished. It all follows and makes it harder for the character to fight his way out of a bad situation. What wouldn’t make a lot of sense, or remain in the story vein, would be for that man to then start worshipping the pack of purple rhinos that materialized on the corner of 8th and Main. Purple rhinos would make an interesting facet of another story but this man on the run, trying to save his own life, has his hands full. Conflict is only good if it’s believable and cohesive, and it’s the lack of believable cohesion that plagues Susan Grant’s Your Planet, or Mine.
As previously noted, I have read, sometimes voraciously, romance since, well, my whole life. Yet, I managed, somehow, to avoid all of the big names of the genre. As I’ve rectified my omissions, I’ve discovered some great authors, puzzled over the success of others, and wondered what was the big deal about some. You know, the authors who are okay but not great, write nice stories but nothing that rises above the crowd, have a certain something but not enough to make you seek out more.
Thus we come to Linda Lael Miller. I won her title Daniel’s Bride through a Paperback Reader contest. Or rather, I won the privilege of reading and reviewing Daniel’s Bride through a Paperback Reader contest – my idea, which should teach me something. Hey, I thought, I like new stuff. I make macaroni and cheese with chipotle cheddar.
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.
HelenKay: With so many paranomal offerings following the lives (or undead lives, as the case may be) of vampires, witches, werewolves and other nightstalking creatures, a reader can find anything from funny to horror on the shelves. Paranormal reads of the vampire variety range from the more harsh, like Kassandra Sims’ The Midnight Work, to light and charming, like Kerrelyn Sparks’ How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire. Recent witch/Wicca stories tend to fall more on the humorous side, but the not-so-funny are available, too. If the quest then is to find something new, to set one paranomal apart from the one read before, what happens if an author combines funny with serious and vampires with witches? Tate Hallaway provides the answer in Tall, Dark & Dead. She even throws in the Goddess of Evil, and witch hunters who get their orders straight from the Vatican.
Have you heard? Chick lit is dead. The plucky heroine? Over. Tales of life among the single in the big city? Gone the way of Studio 54; the business records have been seized and threats of jail time for tax evasion loom. Variety, a publication devoted to reporting about the film industry, said so. They even used phrases like “as out of style as last year’s Jimmy Choos” and “jumped the shark.” The focus of contemporary women’s literature, Variety claims, is a more grown up, post-Sex and the City phase of life, the literary equivalent of “disco sucks.” Can any of this be true? Is it safe to trust a Hollywood publication’s take on publishing? Sure, if you don’t mind following pronouncements that are so far behind the curve that what they declare as old has had time to become new again.
It is into this 70s-like hangover that Liz Ireland’s The Pink Ghetto arrives complete with its plucky twenty-something heroine, who lives in New York, works as a book editor and is chronically unlucky in love. It’s almost like the “chick lit is dead” memo didn’t get wide circulation, or more likely well written stories continue to be published in defiance of trend watchers.
Lorraine Heath’s Promise Me Forever was a PBR reader suggestion, and since I’ve never read Heath (how is it that I’ve read more romances than the average soul, yet managed to miss so many big-name authors?), I eagerly volunteered. Sheesh, now I’m telling whoppers before I start the review. I volunteered because I love a challenge.
As teenagers, Lauren Fairfield and Thomas Warner fell in love (as only teenagers can do) despite their different stations in life. Then Lauren was whisked off to live in London and Tom took up cattle ranching. Now Lauren’s a proper lady who still mourns her first-and-only love – and, conveniently, Tom is now a long-lost earl (also conveniently filthy rich) arriving in London to take his proper place in society. One can only guess at the odds that Lauren and Tom will somehow reconnect and rekindle and reunite.