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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most perplexing trends to take a hold of romance is the demonization of the press. Through category and single titles alike, journalists have become the easy go-to villain. In contemporary romance, being part of the media is as telling a character trait as the black hat in westerns of old. The reader need not be given anything beyond that one word: press. Authors who utilize this characterization shorthand might as well substitute Satan for press for all the evilness the press has come to symbolize in romance. What is, perhaps, even more perplexing is why. Really, why? Do the average romance author and the average romance reader really share the common enemy of the media? Since neither readers, nor writers, of romance show up in mainstream media or are the subjects of gonzo paparazzi the common enemy theory seems unlikely.
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.
Carlotta Wren’s life is a mess. Her parents skipped town rather than stand up in a courtroom for their white collar crimes. So, at eighteen, Carlotta lost her fiancee and financial security, but gained full-time care of her baby brother Wesley. Now, years later, her baby brother continues to seek out trouble and every gambling opportunity possible. Being on the financial edge and in debt to everyone, Wesley’s antics threaten both Carlotta and Wesley.
But Wesley is the least of Carlotta’s problems. There’s the return of her ex-fiancee, the murder of the ex-fiancee’s now-wife, a mysterious detective, a hot former doctor who gives Wesley a chance and Carlotta more than one look, a questionable female attorney with a shady link to Carlotta’s father and a probation officer who looks more like a stripper than a member of law enforcement. And those are only the main characters in Stephanie Bond’s newest, Body Movers, the first installment in an ongoing series.
Let the discussion begin.
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.
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: 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.