[HelenKay] One of our regular features here at PBR is the author favorite spot. One of us picks an all-time favorite and tortures the others by insisting the book get a special review. Jayne Ann Krentz is my all-time favorite romance author. This likely is a result of her being the first romance author I ever read, but my opinion of her has not wavered over time. As my romance novel preferences change (and they have), my appreciation of her work has not diminished. Now, for reasons that are not clear, Wendy does not appreciate Krentz with an appropriate level of enthusiasm. Actually, she doesn’t have any enthusiasm for Krentz. Rather than force her to read the book and thereby, potentially, allow this horrific flaw in Wendy’s reading taste to destroy our friendship and reviewing arrangement, I turned to Kassia for assistance. Kassia, being the witty and clever soul she is, shares my admiration for all things Krentz.
The real story is that Wendy, having done a host of solo reviews during my deadline-inflicted absence, is taking a much deserved rest. Unfortunately her anti-Krentz mindset is also true.
For those who don’t know, Perfect Partners follows the story of Letty Thornquist, a librarian at a small mid-western college. Letty inherits a sporting goods company (Thornquist Gear) upon the death of the owner who is also her uncle. Still stinging from her fiancee’s infidelity, Letty sees the inheritance as her ticket to a new life and relocates to Washington to run the company. The CEO of Thornquist Gear, Joel Blackstone, has other ideas. He dreads the arrival of the intellectual and plans to move her out of the way. He’s been using the company to inflict a little revenge on his hometown and the influential businessman who ruined Joel’s family. Joel needs Letty to stay out of the way, and out of his company, until the vengeance is complete.
Then Joel meets Letty, and his priorities change.
[HelenKay] Let the Jayne Ann Krentz lovefest begin…we will hold off on the I’m-a-bigger-fan debate for now. ‘Tho it is clear I would win that one.
Krentz is not new to the romance genre. She writes historicals as Amanda Quick, paranormals as Jayne Castle, contemporaries as Jayne Ann Krentz, and has doubled as Amanda Glass (I think) and Stephanie James…and, I’m probably missing a few. After more than two decades of writing under at least five different author names, some readers glom onto her with the same intensity as the weirdos (I mean that in a respectful way) who stood in line at the Lord of the Rings movies dressed in hobbit costumes. Others – we’ll call them misguided disbelievers – hate her. Love or hate, all seem to know her. At the very least, you have to admire her staying power and dedication to the genre. While the latter items are impressive and worthwhile, some may believe they do not justify plunking down hardcover prices for her work year after year.
As a long-time Krentz disciple (and lover of her mulitple writing personalities), what keeps you coming back — or is this a case where all of her writing sounds the same, but you don’t care?
[Kassia] Well, heck, I thought we’d start easy. With typewriters and pantyhose and how they can date a story. By 1992, when this was published, I had totally given up even considering pantyhose. I never considered typewriters. Typing was one of the two classes I failed in my academic career. I think then, 1992, I was (ahem) contemporaneous with Letty (the heroine). I only bring this up because the hose were a bit more prominent than comfort would want.
But you want to talk about serious matters. I did not come to Krentz in the traditional way. It happened on a spring day, I remember it vividly — I was desperate for a book and couldn’t find anything. I’d been devouring Regencies in an unseemly manner. I saw the Amanda Quick shelf (or half shelf) and hesitated. Could I? I’d never gone that far before. She seemd, well, too popular for me. I so preferred outsiders. It was a risk.
Oh, my gosh. Do you know how many books you can read by one author in rapid succession? The answer is a lot, as long as you’re willing to ignore your husband. I am.
One thing I learned is that too much of anything is too much. Moreso for an author. You need variety. The other thing I learned is that Krentz, especially, has high points and low points. She’s self-indulgent and often repetitive. Certain themes tend to repeat. Oddly enough, in this particular title, some of her favorites seem to be missing. That being said, one of the things I love about Jayne Ann Krentz is the fact that she marches to the beat of her own drummer. She doesn’t tell the same stories everyone else is telling. She takes more risks in subject matter and story elements. In many ways, I’d rather read bad Krentz than most of the other stuff being published today.
Do I get to ask questions (not that it will stop me)? What is it about Jayne Ann Krentz that you really love and what about “Perfect Partners” makes it a must-read for you?
[HelenKay] I’m tempted to say no you can’t for fear of what’s coming…
I’ve been a loyal Krentz reader from the beginning. Admittedly, my beginning started later than most romance readers. See, I was one of “those” people. You know the ones, the I-love-to-read-anything-but-romance people. The annoying people. Then one day, about a hundred years ago, a co-worker handed me three romance books and told me to stop judging and start reading. The books were The Bride by Julie Garwood, Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz and Daniel’s Bride by Linda Lael Miller – by the way, all three will eventually appear here as fav picks.
Well, the point is that I fell in love with the authors and the genre. So much so that I raced through the respective backlists of these ladies at an incredible speed. It was months before I tried other romance authors, as if these were the only three romance authors on the planet who could write. Yeah, I know. I told you I was part of the “those people” crowd.
Since Krentz had written about 5,000 books, rounding all of them up was not a simple task. I did it anyway. What I loved about her books then, and continue to love about her books now, is the same thing Krentz-doubters see as her biggest drawback – the pressence of what I term the quintessential Krentz romance components: (1) an attractive but not ridiculously gorgeous heroine (usually a vegan and librarian) who says and does believable (and sometimes stupid) things, who tends to be sexually inexperienced but not laughably so, and who is smart enough not to run upstairs while trying to escape the boogeyman at the backdoor, but vulnerable enough to fall for a controlling cutie when she sees one; (2) an alpha hero with a rough exterior and a soft and gooey chewable center who is handsome but rarely conventionally so, and who recognizes the heroine for the gem she is despite the lack of movie star looks; (3) a touch of mystery that throws the plucky heroine together with the commanding hero; (4) involved and relevant secondary characters who never overshadow the main romance and who tend to be biologically related to either the hero or heroine; and, (5) a touch of wit and laughter that manages to charm me every single time.
Perfect Partners has all of these characteristics, including the obligatory former fiance of the heroine who got caught…well, letting another woman enjoy his vegetables, so to speak. In addition to being a book that nurtured my love for romance novels – a fact that will always keep it at the top of my favorites list – it’s funny and sweet. The attraction between Letty and Joel sparks and sizzles. Their sharp banter is both humorous and true to character. Joel’s turn from placating Letty to loving her is very romantic. The secondary characters are memorable. The plot ticks along at a speed guaranteed to keep you reading. Predictable in some ways, yes, but enjoyable in all others.
Now, one thing that did pop into my head while reading this book again was the romance-as-a-forgone conclusion issue. I blame Wendy for this. She’s very big on the “you should expect a happy ending but the book needs to be written to make you believe they may not get one” philosophy of romance. Since I won’t dare ask you if you think Wendy is wrong – not in public, anyway – what’s your thought on the idea that Krentz is light on romantic conflict and that this, also, is a consistent theme in her romance novels?
[Kassia] Like you, I find some comfort in the various Krentz themes. This was written, I believe, before she went totally tea and vegetarian — and, darn it, we need more tea-drinking vegetarians in romance! — I swear I saw a coffee reference in there. You did an admirable job of listing my favorite aspects (next, can we do Absolutely, Positively, just for the theme analysis?…and yeah, I’m trying to raise Tod’s blood pressure).
I’m not brave enough to cross Wendy — she controls passwords to the site, and while I’m aware that this doesn’t impact you in any way, shape, or form, I like being allowed to sneak in and correct my spelling. That being said, ahem, I’m going to suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay not to keep the reader guessing about the resolution of the romance. How many books have you read where an unwarranted, unnecessary, and unwanted “black moment” is tossed into the mix just to create faux conflict? Why can’t the story, the plot, be the source of good conflict? The romance, in and of itself, is rarely a plotline.
In this particular book, the fact that Joel and Letty were grown-up about their attraction (though Letty might have been a little naive on the blow job score — I’m sure we’ll talk about that later; if not, assume we did) and adult about their relationship is very refreshing to me. This is a hallmark of Krentz’s work; her characters, even when they’re on the naive side, enter loving relationships in a mature fashion. In fact, the conflict of the story makes the possibility of heartbreak for the reader more plausible. I’ll see if I can elaborate in an intelligent manner.
We know these two people have the physical, intellectual, and emotional connection. We also know that Letty has the one thing Joel spent his adult life trying to get – she owns the company he was promised. This is a wedge between them. Joel is trying to destroy the livelihoods of a lot of people. This goes against Letty’s natural instincts. She can appreciate his need for revenge; she cannot condone his solution. Working through these major conflicts — if Joel carries out his plan, I’m not sure Letty could forgive it — makes a much stronger story than a “will they or won’t they” romance. The resolution of the story, in most of the Krentz works I treasure most, comes from a strong tendency toward compromise. Long-term commitments require give-and-take from both partners. I think one thing I truly enjoy is that Krentz can take headstrong or strong-willed, dominant characters and let us watch them become true couples. You know these people don’t break up after the book ends.
Now to push my luck (I know you’re really the one asking the questions): Krentz has, as she’s grown as a writer, gotten better at writing mysteries. Did you feel the mystery in this particular story was well-done or even needed?
[HelenKay] Did you just disagree with Wendy…? With the romance philosophy that something must drive the hero and heroine apart until the reader fells all is lost…? You may have to hand in your RWA card (do we have cards?) for that blasphemy, you brave woman.
I must admit, I’ve always viewed Krentz as mystery/suspense-lite. But, the mystery portion of Krentz’s books is a bit tighter these days and a bit more center stage. Where this component previously wound its way throughout the romance and provided an extra level of conflict, it now tends to drive the story. She’s still mystery/suspense-lite to me but, really, do you buy Krentz for heavy duty romance/suspense/adventure? Me either. Having made my point, now let me backtrack. Despite the “lite” title bestowed by yours truly, Krentz’s subject matter is evolving. See, there are some things about her writing that change over time… For example, I just finished reading her newest All Night Long. Ignoring the hardcover price tag of the new release as compared to the 1992 reissue paperback price of the past for a second, the new and the old books otherwise have the same feel. In the new book, more dead bodies litter the ground and the issue of incest plays a role. A bit unusual and nothing “lite” about that.
In Perfect Partners the mystery/suspense portion helps to define what drives Joel. The book could easily stand on the corporate posturing and romantic histories of Joel and Letty, but Joel’s desire to destroy his hometown – and who hasn’t felt that urge now and then – only really makes sense in the context of Joel’s history and the questions surrounding his father’s death. I’m not convinced Joel would be quite so heroic if he wanted to destroy his hometown just because he felt like it.
And speaking of those romantic histories… We have a few romance standards here: Letty walks in on her fiancee during a blowjob (by someone other than Letty, obviously); Letty is stunned by the whole idea of a blowjob; Joel’s ex is a rich girl ruled by her daddy; and Letty’s ex is a pompous moron. Nothing new here. Does all of this feel dated and rehashed, or do these ideas work in Krentz’s hands?
[Kassia] Well, to be perfectly frank, I thought Letty’s naive attitude toward sex felt dated. It’s not like blowjobs are a new invention. I have this crazy-ass view of librarians as being very knowledgeable about everything (this is probably because my mother is a librarian, and she will be the first to tell that she’s never wrong), and Letty’s insistence on reading articles to gain real-life experience was interesting, but also felt a little forced on the intellectual curiosity front.
In 1992, a woman who wasn’t getting off with her chosen partner had to know that it was possibly or even probably his fault. Or so I like to think. Letty was drawn as a pretty sheltered person, so it worked on that level. I didn’t believe it in terms of reality, but Krentz gave me enough to understand that it worked for the character. Likewise the pompous hero — I hate to say this, but I know women who get tangled up with the wrong guy and simply don’t see what a jerk he is. It’s like everybody knows but her…
To the rich girl question, as much as I’d like to pretend we’ve moved beyond this, again I know more than a few women who still fear angering Daddy. Granted, I find this type of story more compelling from the rebellious daughter perspective, but you know me, never happy. These traditional elements work when handled by someone who knows what they’re doing — I will say that I think Krentz has really grown as a writer since she wrote Perfect Partners, and even though I’ve read this book more than once (or twice), I still return happily. I can’t say that about many authors.
[HelenKay] Now there’s an open-ended question.
The short answer is this: I love her. Always have and always will. She could write a novel with all those romance constructions that grate on my nerves (see: virgins in their 30s who morph into sex experts upon meeting the hero), and I would whip out my B&N membership card and buy it. I’m loyal like that.
From Perfect Partners to All Night Long, and the books in between – that would include the Jayne Castle futuristics (not my favorite subgenre by a mile) and some of her older stuff with unforgettable titles such as Fabulous Beast – her books entertain me. She is my book equivalent of comfort food. No matter what type of book, from whatever writing decade, she meets my expectations and never disappoints. I know what I will get when I buy one of her books. She hasn’t changed her base writing style or subject matter (for an example of an author who did and makes me weep: Julie Garwood). She is who she is and doesn’t apologize for her love of the genre. I admire that.
One last shot back to you: As Krentz’s #2 fan (you know who holds the #1 space), do you have a favorite Krentz/Quick/Glass/James/Castle book? If so, which and why?
[Kassia] – Sure, I’ll let you be #1 if it makes you feel better. I know the truth in my heart. I am incapable of chosing just one. Being #2 has its privileges, mostly being able to choose two books (that’s what the two means, right?). As Krentz, I so adore Absolutely, Positively. It just makes me happy every time I read it. I must have three copies. With Quick, that’s a little harder, but I’m going to go with Scandal because it was my first Krentz, et al and remains a delight to me today. I, as you might suspect, am a sucker for smart women, strong men, and funny books.
You can visit Jayne Ann Krentz here and purchase this book here or here.