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.
Some books, like JR Ward’s Lover Awakened, are eagerly anticipated with pre-orders numbers that one would expect from a New York Times best seller veteran. Other books, the sort in a superstar stratosphere unto themselves, like the Harry Potter books, are obsessively waited for: countdown clocks are made, lines form, the devoted sleep on sidewalks for the chance to be the first with the book in their hands. And then, there are books like Teresa Medeiros’ The Vampire Who Loved Me, a book, like the others, awaited, but with sanity and patience. A book fans of After Midnight (Merdeiros’ first look at the Cabot sisters) are certainly interested in, but one unlikely to inspire camping out for. As it turns out, The Vampire Who Loved Me isn’t a book to sit nicely on the to-be-read pile, but demands to be read immediately and without interruption.
You go to the bookstore in search of a contemporary romance read. A solid, straightforward romance read. Not erotica or erotic romance. No suspense or mystery. No vampires, werewolves or other evidence of paranormal. Sounds easy in theory. Reality is the problem.
Oh, books of this type are on the shelves. You just have to dig through all of the book with photos of vampires, witches and mostly naked people on the bindings first. And when you find that non-historical, non-erotica, non-paranormal romance you face an even bigger issue – will it hold your attention. The question is, without the worldbuilding necessary for paranormal romance, without a dead body or missing something, will this newly purchased contemporary romance keep you turning all 400 pages. Authors like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich and Meg Cabot craft novels where the pacing, plot and character development all work together with success. Others don’t.
This is a don’t.
Once upon a time, a young woman stood at the edge of the library stacks, wondering where, oh where, she’d find her perfect story. Years went by, and she continued to seek the perfect story. One was too hot, one was too cold, very few were just right.
Still she kept reading, deciding that no one tome would fit her every mood. She settled on a mix of stories, figuring variety was the spice of fantasy. After all, there is a great difference between story and reality. One always ends just right, the other, well, you know how it is when you wake up to cat vomit. Or morning breath. They sometimes smell the same.
The Young Adult genre has blown wide open in the last few years, tripling in size and print runs; where once a teen reader was stranded in the no man’s land between Intermediate and Adult Fiction they now have many authors vying for their age group and attention. With women doing the majority of the book buying, it is no surprise that young, female protagonists populate the shelves. Whether they are mean girls, the target of mean girls or dealing with issues that range from body image to rape, authors find ways to interpret the teenage experience in new and (hopefully) interesting ways. To this end, a sub-genre has even developed where authors overlay high school woes with a paranormal sheen, giving the unwanted high school label “freak” a whole new meaning.
These days it’s difficult to trip over a pink covered book without hearing talk of chick lit’s death. But, how fatal is this death? Is it the same sort of plague westerns fell victim to, when a genre that was once all powerful disappeared from bookstore shelves? Or, is it more like the nuclear winter Hair Bands of the 80s faced when a glut of pretty boy groups perished under Seattle’s influence with only a couple of bands proving to have talent and staying power?
What hope is there for this admittedly bloated genre of fiction? While the one-thousandth retelling of a plucky single girl in the city, who drinks trendy cocktails and lusts after an obvious cad doesn’t hold appeal, the much boarder spectrum of chick lit does. There are still stories to be told, and, quite simply, there is a need for a fictional medium for irreverent young women and the third wave feminism issues they face.
With paranormal romances awash in vampires and werewolves, it’s the rare author who offers something new to the sub-genre. It is the even rarer author who manages this feat without relying on the use of clichés common to romance novels. In Dark Protector, Alexis Morgan’s Paladins offer a fresh, new mythology to the paranormal world only to fail to overcome other standard conventions and a lack of world-building.
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.
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.