The best romantic suspense villains exhibit which of the following traits:
- Shadowy, mushy goals and motivations which make sense only because the author says they do.
- The ability to hide their thoughts so well that the reader is more often perplexed than not.
- Violent, sometimes sadomasochistic tendencies that have appeared for no good reason.
- Clear, well-defined goals, motivation, and conflict.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I have a real love/hate relationship with continuing series. I adore them more than words can say, and I hate it when a favorite series jumps the shark. I don’t believe every book needs a sequel, I don’t believe every character needs to be expanded into his or her own full-fledged novel, but I do believe that authors should have the grace, dignity, and, well, objectiveness to stop a series at the right time.
I’m also sure that you’ve noticed that even when I swear off a series, I sometimes relapse. For me, breaking up really is hard to do, and sometimes I realize that it wasn’t the series, it was me. Like when I thought I was done with the J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts – the secret was poorly kept to begin with, and that’s clearly Nora looking mad, bad, and dangerous on the back covers of recent books) “In Death” series.
I can’t explain why I am sometimes compelled to go into the scary place that is my garage and root around in boxes in search of a specific book. It’s like a chemical reaction that I can’t control — I wake up and nothing will make me happy except for that one specific book (generally that one specific book is also located in a box under a zillion other boxes, meaning I work up a sweat before I get to read. Beats hitting the gym.).
A couple of weekends ago, I woke up with a powerful need to read Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream A Little Dream. It turns out that I get this urge about once a year, give or take. I love this book. I love this book despite the fact that I spend a good three quarters of my reading time in tears. Please do not tell anyone about that — I do not cry easily (what is the old saying? There’s no crying in reviewing?). But this book does me in. Every. Single. Time.
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard is a deceptive book. On first glance it looks like one of a million Gossip Girl followers with its shiny, attractive girls on the cover and its high society setting. When I picked it up during a lunch break at work, I was expecting something light and commercialistic, what I found instead was a Twin Peaks-esque story line where instead of trying to figure out who killed Laura Palmer I was left wondering if Alison DiLaurentis was even dead.
Romance has long been accused of suffering from a general sameness: same characters, same plots, same endings. That is an arguable point, but looking at the new release table laden with vampires, werewolves, and erotica, and then more vampires, werewolves, and erotica, readers might think the effort put into the argument is wasted. The market is rather striking for its current homogeneity, so much so that titles offering the least bit of variation stand out. Jodi Thomas’ new release, Texas Rain, is immediately intriguing for that very reason. The story doesn’t have a paranormal element. Nor does it feature characters who define themselves by the quick, easy sex they have, or the quick, easy sex they want to have. In fact, there isn’t any sex, to speak of, in the book. Texas Rain is a pre-Civil War-set-Western and different enough in both approach and content that, at first blush, it seems like a revolution might be brewing on the new release table.
Some books defy easy definition. These books may best be described by what they aren’t. A promise of a suspense not met. A romance focused only on the chase and not on the catch. A vampire tale less about vampires than about societal pressures. If a book isn’t as suspenseful as advertised, or isn’t really a romantic as hoped, disgruntled readers tend to rise up and complain of missed expectations. But, other times a book has just enough of everything to be enticing. Kimberly Raye’s Dead End Dating falls into the latter category.
The greatest strength of paranormal romance is the opportunity it provides for diversity in the genre. The boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-wins-girl-back formula can be told with infinite variations when things such as five-hundred-year-life-spans are thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, paranormal has largely proved more homogeneous than hetero: he’s a vampire too noble to drink blood; she’s a good witch; he/she is a werewolf willing to chew off his/her own paw rather than bite a human. Limiting paranormal to a few constructs, a few worn out mythologies, constricts the subgenre to the strangling point and robs it of its most interesting aspect. One niche of paranormal romance that has yet to be winnowed down is science fiction. The opportunities for worlds with alternate histories, futures and presents that are populated with humans – or human like characters – are infinite and authors like Nalini Singh make a fantastic argument for more sci-fi romances.
The best writers are not, necessarily, those with the best ideas; they’re they ones with the best execution. Richard Russo’s Empire Falls is simply a re-telling of Great Expectations. Russo certainly isn’t the only one to undertake that very common idea, and yet there is fine-spun brilliance in every line of Empire Falls and that is why the book won the Pulitzer. Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation is the story of a big city girl from the wrong side of the tracks and a small town boy whose family runs the town. Romance has seen that setup time and again, yet Crusie slipped magic and subtext into the tale and a finer poor girl/rich boy story cannot be found. The ideas aren’t worth much, but the achievements are priceless
Michelle Rowen’s sophomore effort, Angel with Attitude, sounds like a great idea: the heroine, Valerie Grace is an angel, and the hero, Nathaniel, is a demon. It stacks up to be the ultimate good girl/bad boy story: she’s just wants to get back to heaven and he wants to coax her to hell. This is delicious. What common ground could such a couple have? How far will she fall? Can he be redeemed? The answers don’t really matter. It is how those answers unfold that prove whether the setup succeeds or fails. Like all ideas, Angel with Attitude comes down to the execution.
According to the buzz at RWA’s annual conference this year, sex continues to sell like hotcakes (I don’t get the reference either) and the hotter the story, the better. Before erotica/erotic romance became the darling of publishers everywhere, Harlequin pushed the boundaries with their Blaze line.
You know, sexy premise, sexy story. And I’m going to admit it – I fell for a marketing pitch. I picked up Cara Summers’ Two Hot! Based on back cover copy alone. Part of Blaze’s “Forbidden Fantasies” flash, the book promised me a journey into fantasy numero dos – two men, one heroine.
Back when Dante was imagining the circles of hell, they hadn’t invented high school. Otherwise, there would have been a special place devoted to cliques and pimples and headgear. They say that college is where you learn independence; high school is where you learn to survive.
Not that the heroine of Serena Robar’s young adult novel, Braced2Bite, has any problems with the high school scene. She’s the top of the cheerleader pyramid, an honors student, and gunning for the man of her dreams. Okay, so she’s also a vampire, no, half-vampire. Genealogy is a tricky thing.