There are two aspects of American history that I believe the romance genre handles especially poorly. The first is the Civil War; the second is anything to do with the treatment of Native American people, especially during the 1800s. Both topics are so frequently mired in politically correct approaches that they come off as sugar-coated and false.
Despite knowing this, I cling to a very frayed thread of optimism, hoping someday I will read an Indian romance that both feels honest and helps me to understand reader (and author) fascination with Indian/European coupling. In The Spirit Of The Wolf, the story of an Indian scout on an unclear mission to save his people and an Englishwoman trying to make her way back home, Karen Kay fails to do either.
As our regular readers know, every now and then we like to have a little love fest — a favorite book, a favorite author, a favorite book by a favorite author. It’s also a great way to break in new victi–reviewers. Since I’ve been long convinced that Wendy and HelenKay have missed the magic that is Nora Roberts, when I discovered that new PBRer Lorna Freeman is a Nora fan, I thought, “Cool. It’s time for Carnal Innocence.”
Carnal Innocence is your basic small-town mystery: someone’s killing the fast and loose women of Innocence, Mississippi in particularly brutal ways. Caroline Waverly, a world-renowned violinist comes to Innocence after inheriting her grandparents’ home. Her goal: peace and rejuvenation. Of course, with a serial killer on the loose, peace is tough to come by. Enter Tucker Longstreet, known lazybones and the richest dude in town (and possibly the state). Not only is Tucker, uh, well-acquainted with the dead women, he’s also impossibly charming, the backbone of his family, and all-around ladies’ man. I mean that as a compliment.
Harlequin’s new imprint Spice, is the stalwart publisher’s entry into the hot, and increasingly bloated, erotic fiction marketplace. If erotic fiction and Harlequin—the publishing home of countless 30 year old, virginal heroines and conflict that can always be resolved in a precise number of pages with a ring and a pregnancy—seem an unlikely and uneasy partnership, that’s because they are. Spice’s aim is to offer the women clamoring for super hot, non-traditional reads, erotic fiction that isn’t bogged down with all that sex. The result is a line of books that shines bright lights into shadowed corners, smoothes out the rough edges, and generally feels like a favorite strip club that is now run by Disneyland.
There is a crux in fiction, a contract between the author and the reader regarding the suspension of disbelief. Readers are willing to step into fictitious worlds and accept the reality presented within and in return authors make those fictitious worlds feel real. What readers are willing to buy into ranges from the impossible to the highly unlikely. In Steam Punk, readers accept a Victorian setting with modern day technology. In Science Fiction, readers accept that humans—or human like species – populate the vast reaches of the universe, traveling and communicating through means that are purely speculation on the author’s part. In romance, readers time and again believe that a playboy will give up his multiple bed partners for that one special woman or that a prince will marry a peasant girl. To aid this disregard of reality, fiction must be couched and grounded in something plausible: readers accept the implausible 200 year old vampire, Louis, in Ann Rice’s Interview With The Vampire because despite Louis’ drinking of blood, rising with the moon, and immortality, he is mired in emotions so human every reader can relate. When fiction is burdened with characters and storylines that strain credibility on top of asking for the usual suspension of disbelief, fiction is doomed to failure. Such is the case with Colleen Thompson’s The Deadliest Denial.
HelenKay: Books centered on kidnapped children know no genre boundaries. Missing and endangered children are as plentiful in fiction as they are in life. Mysteries and thrillers are logical places to find these fictional children in peril. Romantic suspense and literary fiction often provide fertile ground for this plot as well. While some books like Lovely Bones explore this subject from a fresh angle, many others travel the same path. This relative sameness drains some of the emotion from the suspense aspect of the read. Kate Pepper avoids the read-this-all-before feel in her book One Cold Night by focusing less on the kidnapping than on the desperation and uncertainty of those left behind. The result is a full and engaging exploration of loss, love, deceit and faith.
Erotica or erotic romance: that is the question. All playing hard and fast with Hamlet aside, there are a lot questions, still, about what erotic romance is, where the boundary between romance and erotic romance is, and where then the dividing line between erotic romance and erotica exists. Questions abound; definitive answers, do not. Divisions, categories and labels create a slippery slope for who gets to decide what fiction belongs where. Does Reader A’s opinion supersede Reader B’s if they don’t agree on what level of sexuality is too much for a simple romance label or what level isn’t enough for an erotic tag? It’s a quagmire for certain, one that Black Lace has stepped into with its re-release of Pamela Rochford’s 1997 title Dangerous Consequences.
HelenKay: For years romance readers have complained about the too-stupid-to-live (TSTL) heroine. This is the woman who acts in ways that defy common sense and reality. The nonsensical decisions they make come both in the face of true adversity and in reaction to mundane problems. Many times this TSTL woman is too insecure to make a life decision without the approval of her mother or father or grandparent or priest or neighbor or 4th grade teacher or someone in an equal position of power. Despite this, somehow and without explanation, she can take on a McGyver-like quality and diffuse a Tomahawk Missile with her barrette using only the knowledge she gained while growing up on a Kansas farm.
In spite of, or maybe in reaction to, these TSTL heroines comes the kick-ass heroine. These ladies don’t need family permission to take a job or a caucus of friends to pick which man to date. Many can shoot, run, kill, diffuse and fight. Unfortunately, many of these ladies also defy common sense and reality, mostly because of their ability to morph from “normal” to superhuman with little explanation. In those cases, the contexts of their kick-ass natures are wrong. But there are others. Silhouette Bombshell promises from the outset a “strong, savvy, sexy heroine who always saves the day.” A reader goes in expecting a kick-ass heroine with specialized skills and an attitude to match. The worry isn’t that the reader will encounter a TSTL heroine. A kick-ass heroine is guaranteed. The worry then is that the kick-ass heroine won’t convince or stay true to who she is and her surroundings. Wendy Rosnau overcomes all of these worries and delivers on the Bombshell promise with the compelling romantic thriller The Spy With The Silver Lining.
We all survived May, the month of the Scavenger Hunt. For those who played along – thank you and good job. Your Google skills are impressive. For those who didn’t – what, do you guys not like getting free books or something?
First, we have a winner in Scavenger Hunt Kassia Style. She is Jennifer Yates. Congrats!! Send us an email with your contact information, and we’ll get your autographed copy of The Comeback Kiss out to you.
For those scared off by the idea of trying to figure out Kassia’s questions, and you know who you are, here are the questions and correct answers:
1. This husband-and-wife writing team won both the Golden Medallion (the precursor to the RITA) in 1987. The inimitable Sharon and Tom Curtis, writing as Laura London.
2. Sticking with our dynamic duo, this title, written under their pseudonym, featured an Amish woman and a former child actor. The classic Sunshine and Shadow (Kassia cannot believe that HelenKay couldn’t get that one!).
3. Last but not least, this same couple was included in this magical anthology also featuring award-winning author Jo Beverley. When You Wish… The story was the incredible “The Natural Child”. Jennifer gets bonus points for guessing this one because Kassia was staring at the wrong book while she was typing (it was supposed to be award-winning author Elizabeth Elliott — Kassia apologizes and will clean her desk this weekend).
Now for a new contest…
Summer is upon us. At PBR we look at this as a time to be lazy, read and eat. Really, those three can be done all year round, but summer is a good excuse for extra laziness, reading and food. We’ve got the laziness and food parts handled but could use a little help on the reading part. For this month your job is simple (ie, limited Google searching required): you pick a romance subgenre (ie chick lit, romantic suspense, category, historical, paranormal, comedy etc.) and give us three review choices from June and July 2006 releases only in that subgenre. The other requirements: the authors can’t be authors we’ve reviewed before AND at least one of your selections has to be from a debut author. Yes, this may require some searching on PBR. We have one of those nifty search screens on the sidebar. If you’re not sure if we’ve reviewed a particular author before, put in the name and check (hint: that’s faster than reading every single review we’ve ever done, but feel free to read them all if you want to). You can offer suggestions in more than one subgenre category – just do it in separate emails. One subgenre per email.
Here’s the good news: for all your hard work in offering these titles, if we pick your title you get that book and a few others of our choosing. If more than one person picks a title, we’ll randomly select which one of you gets the review book, but all who pick the title will get some free books. Really, how easy is that?
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.