Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Suspense + Romance?

Author Susanna Kearsley answered a question from me on her website! Go see! It's very interesting. I asked how she incorporates romance into her suspense novels, and how she balances the two while writing. Because I would classify her books as romantic suspense, but as she says in her answer, they do not really fit what most readers today think of when they hear "romantic suspense." I guess that's the problem that we get from labeling books and boxing them into these little subgenres. But then "classic suspense with a touch of romance, in a style reminiscent of Mary Stewart and Daphne duMaurier, but also uniquely fresh and different" doesn't really fit on a spine. :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mine Till Midnight, Lisa Kleypas

Title: Mine Till Midnight
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Published: 2007, St. Martin's
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6.5/10

I have to quote Smart Bitch Sarah here because she nailed my feelings about Kleypas:
Anyway, as I was saying, Kleypas = candy. Not the Malaysian kind or the crapass grocery store chocolate kind, but the kind of candy that you stop and devote a good few minutes to enjoying, doing nothing else but savoring the calories that add nothing to your life nutritionally but make you feel happy and indulgent.
May the many thousands of Kleypas fans forgive me, but I've read and enjoyed several Kleypas books and they just don't stick with me for long. And Mine Till Midnight was the same way.

This is the start of what is to be a new series for her, I think. Amelia Hathaway is the oldest daughter of a slightly disreputable family. Since her parents are dead, Amelia is the one who takes care of everybody--no easy feat. Her older brother has recently inherited a title, which unfortunately comes with a crumbling estate and no money. He's also just lost his fiancee to scarlet fever and seems determined to completely self-destruct. The book opens with Amelia searching the gambling halls of London for him. She finally tracks him to one called Jenner's, where she meets Cam Rohan, the half-gypsy who manages it. Instant attraction as he helps her find and retrieve her brother. It seems like they will never see each other again, but of course they run into each other again when the Hathaways move to their new estate, which happens to lie right beside one of Cam's friends' (Lord Westerwhosit from one of the Wallflower books). Cam comes to the rescue as Amelia struggles more and more to keep her family together.

I think I was having mood swings while reading this book. The first scene (when Cam and Amelia meet) annoyed me, then as I got further into the book I was loving it, and then by the end I was irritated again. The scene in London just seemed so full of treacly romantic cliches: "A little shock ran through her as their gazes met." "A ripple of nervousness went through her, leaving an unfamiliar heat in its wake." "The countenance of an exotic angel..." "He wanted to unwrap her like a long-awaited gift." Blergh. The book almost got tossed. But then I started to be charmed by the quirkiness of the Hathaways. They are a really lovable family: gentle Win, cheerful Poppy, kleptomaniac Beatrix. Even the surly brother was well done -- their feelings of helplessness as he self-destructs seemed the perfect mixture of frustration and sadness.

My irritation at the end was caused by the fact that no-nonsense, take-charge Amelia becomes a complete pushover. SPOILER ALERT!! Cam just decides that they'll be married -- he doesn't even ask her. She resists a bit even though she loves him (and who could blame her -- in those days you would be a social outcast if you married a Gypsy), but he just seduces her and she goes along with it. He fixes everything: the house, Merripen's illness, Beatrix's little problem. Now I can understand that it's nice to have a man who can help out, but does he have to do everything?

And then he goes all possessive: "You are never to be alone with him, or any man, except your brother or Merripen. Unless I give my permission." She is upset by this, but she literally gets half a sentence out, and then he kisses her into submission. Argh! I just couldn't like the ending. It was nice to see Amelia loosen up and learn to share her burdens, but it went way too far out of character for her.

Okay, that was sort of a lot of complaining, though I did enjoy most of the book. And I'm sure I'll read Win's book when it comes out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My AAR list

Here's my first-ever try at compiling a top 100 romances list for AAR's poll. I didn't quite come up with a 100 that I felt were worthy, but I did better than I thought I would. (I haven't been reading romance all that long, plus I'm kind of picky.) Putting together these lists isn't easy, is it?I kept wanting to put non-romance on there (and some of them that did make it on are debatable). And then ordering them was impossible. Is this my 37th favorite or 38th? Hmmm. So really, after a while I just stopped stressing about it. ;)

1 Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery
2 This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart
3 Persuasion - Jane Austen
4 Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
5 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
6 Venetia - Georgette Heyer
7 Nine Coaches Waiting - Mary Stewart
8 Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand - Carla Kelly
9 Busman's Honeymoon - Dorothy Sayers
10 Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold
11 Windflower - Laura London
12 Anne of the Island - L.M. Montgomery
13 Into the Wilderness - Sara Donati
14 Devil's Cub - Georgette Heyer
15 Faking It - Jennifer Crusie
16 Beguilement - Lois McMaster Bujold
17 Gaudy Night - Dorothy Sayers
18 Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase
19 Moonspinners - Mary Stewart
20 Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
21 Reforming Lord Ragsdale - Carla Kelly
22 Touch Not the Cat - Mary Stewart
23 Madam, Will You Talk? - Mary Stewart
24 Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
25 Kathryn in the Court of Six Queens - Anne Merton Abbey
26 Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart
27 Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer
28 Desiree - Annemarie Selinko
29 Nonesuch - Georgette Heyer
30 Far Pavilions - M.M. Kaye
31 Born in Fire - Nora Roberts
32 Celia Garth - Gwen Bristow
33 Crazy for You - Jennifer Crusie
34 Shadowy Horses - Susanna Kearsley
35 Simply Love - Mary Balogh
36 Mystic and Rider - Sharon Shinn
37 Bitten - Kelley Armstrong
38 Ever After - Elswyth Thane
39 Match Me if You Can - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
40 Montana Sky - Nora Roberts
41 No Humans Involved - Kelley Armstrong
42 Sea Swept - Nora Roberts
43 To Sir Philip, With Love - Julia Quinn
44 My Brother Michael - Mary Stewart
45 Games of Command - Linnea Sinclair
46 Countess Below Stairs - Eva Ibbotson
47 Lord of Danger - Anne Stuart
48 Bridal Season - Connie Brockway
49 Demon Angel - Meljean Brook
50 Mr. Impossible - Loretta Chase
51 Mariana - Susanna Kearsley
52 Mistress Pat - L.M. Montgomery
53 Unacceptable Offer - Mary Balogh
54 Bride of the MacHugh - Jan Cox Speas
55 Dreaming of You - Lisa Kleypas
56 Morning Gift - Eva Ibbotson
57 Wild Pursuit - Eloisa James
58 Slave to Sensation - Nalini Singh
59 Ain't She Sweet - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
60 Finders Keepers - Linnea Sinclair
61 This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
62 By Possession - Madeline Hunter
63 Lord Perfect - Loretta Chase
64 Frederica - Georgette Heyer
65 Cordelia's Honor - Lois McMaster Bujold
66 Miss Grimley's Oxford Career - Carla Kelly
67 Slightly Dangerous - Mary Balogh
68 Demon Moon - Meljean Brook
69 My Lady Notorious - Jo Beverley
70 Summer to Remember - Mary Balogh
71 Duke and I - Julia Quinn
72 Manhunting - Jennifer Crusie
73 Rapture in Death - J.D. Robb
74 Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer
75 Thornyhold - Mary Stewart
76 Heart of the Sea - Nora Roberts
77 Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder

I tried not to go too fangirl-ish and just add everything by my favorite authors, but it kind of happened anyway. Here are the big winners:
Mary Balogh 4
Lois McMaster Bujold 3
Loretta Chase 3
Jennifer Crusie 5
Georgette Heyer 6
Carla Kelly 3
L.M. Montgomery 3
Susan Elizabeth Phillips 3
Nora Roberts 4
Mary Stewart 8

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, Georgette Heyer

Title: Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1957, Putnam
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

I got this from the library, thinking it was a new-to-me Heyer. Turns out, I'd read it before. But no matter, it was good the second time too.

Miss Phoebe Marlow had one disastrous Season in London; a rather plain girl clad in unbecoming dresses, her intelligence and wit suppressed by insults given her by her overbearing stepmother, she failed to make any sort of impression on Society. Phoebe was happy enough to return home to the country and then got the unpleasant experience out of her system by writing a novel ridiculing certain members of the ton who were unkind to her. One of these characters was based Sylvester, Duke of Salford, who had given her the cut direct at Almacks. Meanwhile, Sylvester has decided it's time to secure a wife and has to come look Phoebe over as a prospective bride because their mothers were friends. Phoebe thinks (rightly) that this is a stupid way to pick a wife and dislikes Sylvester's hoity-toity attitude, so, fearful of being forced into an unwanted marriage, she runs away to London. She unfortunately has a mishap on the way, and Sylvester ends up saving the day. So he turns out to be not all bad, but Phoebe's novel is about to be published, and she knows that he'll be made insanely mad by it.

There's very much a Pride & Prejudice sort of theme here: Sylvester thinks that his manners are the model of perfection, but in fact he's so used to being the powerful and petted duke that he is horribly conceited. Phoebe, in her straightforward, blunt way, takes him down a peg or two, which is just what he needed. She, on the other hand, realizes that her first impression of him was not exactly wrong, but definitely not the whole picture.

This is an excellent example of Heyer's comedic plotlines. The characters are running all over, from Phoebe's country home to London to France and back again. Slightly ridiculous, but mostly just funny. The romance is a little less successful, IMO. Sylvester's interest in Phoebe seems to stem from her being the only one who has ever rejected him, and I was never quite convinced that he gained a genuine respect for her good qualities -- at least, not enough to want to marry her.

But it's definitely worth a read just to meet Sir Nugent Fotherby, one of Heyer's funniest, most over-the-top dandies ever. And to hear little Edmund scream for his Button (I can't explain this joke, you'll just have to read the book). :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lime green. Wicked.

As someone who used to work in production for a book publisher, I get ridiculously excited when I see books that have some unusual design or printing element. I was in Borders tonight and saw that the newly released mass-market edition of Wicked has bright, bright fluorescent green page edges (you totally can't tell from this image of the book cover, sadly). You know how really old books sometimes have gilt or red ink around the edges? Classy, right? Imagine it in green.

It's fantastic, because the book really pops out at you if you see a stack of them sitting on a table. So, snaps to HarperCollins. (Though I wonder how much it cost. Probably a pretty penny.) I almost bought a copy, even though I already have a trade paperback -- which I haven't even read yet. ;)

Oh but I did buy some books too (of course): The Runaway Bride by Julie Anne Long, Sexiest Man Alive by Diana Holquist, and Crazy in Love by Lani Diane Rich. Even though they have plain old paper -- no green ink anywhere. LOL. Proving that though I love pretty books, it's the words that really matter. :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Secret to Seduction, Julie Anne Long

Title: The Secret to Seduction
Author: Julie Anne Long
Published: 2007, Warner
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7/10

I first bought this book months ago after Rosina Lippi (aka Sara Donati) mentioned Julie Anne Long on her blog. (God bless Google, here's the link.) Lippi seems to be quite picky about her romance, so when she endorses someone I'm interested to see why. Most of the post is actually devoted to Long's failings at representing dialect correctly -- this didn't bother me, though I wasn't reading the same title that Rosina was talking about (um yeah, plus I don't have a PhD in linguistics or whatever). What finally brought Secret to Seduction out of the TBR was Janine's great review at Dear Author (which is much longer and more complete than my own).

Sabrina Fairchild is in love (a very polite sort of love) with her village's curate. The curate goes to visit his wicked cousin, Rhys, Earl of Rawden, aka The Libertine, rake extraordinaire and author of scandalous poetry. Sabrina finds a way to get invited to the house party, hoping that she can see more of the curate away from the close watch of her father. Rhys is bored; Sabrina is so irritatingly proud of her "even temperament" and immunity to the evils of a passionate nature. Obviously, it's a challenge Rhys can't refuse and he sets about seducing her. They are caught at it in the library, and Rhys is forced to ask her to marry him. They seem to be falling for each other and on the way to HEA when Sabrina learns that Rhys is guilty of a crime -- one that ruined her family's happiness -- and she has to decide whether or not she can forgive him.

Yes, there are some seriously overdone elements here -- the experienced rake introducing the innocent girl to sexual desire, the compromising situation and forced marriage. And this is points against the book, but I was surprised by how fresh it felt here. Sabrina's innocence isn't irritating, as she is really intelligent and we see that she's not so much a prude as just repressed. The subplot of what happened to Anna's mother was my favorite part. Her matter-of-fact acceptance of her troubles and her ability to forgive and forget were great -- a very wise woman and maybe my favorite character in the book.

I also really liked Long's writing style -- I'll definitely be getting more of her books. Secret to Seduction is the last of a trilogy; Sabrina's sisters' stories are told in Beauty and the Spy and Ways to Be Wicked.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Desktop meme

Megan and Nath tagged me for this, so I'd better get on it.

Here's my desktop at work:

I'm not sure why I like this path-through-the-woods picture so much. Scope for the imagination?

At home Twin and I share a Mac, lovingly named MegaMac (as opposed to the ibook we had named MiniMac). My desktop at work is pretty neat, but poor MegaMac doesn't get the same treatment. He's so messy, I won't embarrass him by displaying his desktop. ;)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Named of the Dragon, Susanna Kearsley

Title: Named of the Dragon
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Published: 1999, Berkley
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 7.5/10

I've been having trouble getting into books lately! Boo. You can see I haven't been doing many reviews. I think it has to do with still being in the process of adjusting to all the newness of a new town and new job. I try to read but then feel too antsy to really settle down and get into it. Well, last Sunday I finally had a completely free day, so I curled up on the couch with Named of the Dragon, expecting the same trouble. But no! I spent the whole day completely sucked in and didn't do much of anything else (except eat, I always remember to eat) until I'd finished it. Yay! Thank God. I was worried my reading zen had gone.

Lyn Ravenshaw is a London literary agent who gets invited to spend Christmas with one of her authors in a little town in Wales. Lyn decides that this might be a good distraction, as her own life has been a bit bleak lately; she is recently divorced and, even more importantly, is still being tortured by nightmares following the death of her baby. In Wales, she meets a young woman named Elen, a young widow with a small child, who is convinced that her son is in horrible danger. She is seemingly off her rocker (she thinks a dragon is after him), but Lyn slowly comes to agree that there is something wrong. But where is the danger coming from? Dashing novelist James, the surly playwright Gareth, one of the other villagers -- or is it all in her imagination, a vestige of her guilt over not being able to save her own child?

I think what sucked me in so completely was the incredible mood that was set -- all of Kearsley's novels have a gothic flavor to them, which is done so well. The action itself is not really very fast or dramatic, but each scene builds the suspense slowly, adding to the mystery and setting you up to wonder. The climax was a little underwhelming, but I didn't even mind because I had such fun getting there. The setting too is wonderful; I've always wanted to visit Wales, and now I want to even more.

The other thing I loved were the very smart characters. All authors and agents, full of clever patter, but never snobby about it. And the romance is very subtle, but--the last scene! Ahhh. Lovely.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Book sale loot

Twin and I went to the Durham County Public Library's book sale last weekend. I wasn't expecting much (I'm still a big-city snob in some ways), but it was really decent. I got a great armload of books for $10. Here's most the haul:

Daring Masquerade, Balogh (never heard of this one, but hey, it's Balogh)
The Last Hellion, Loretta Chase
Marrying Stone, Pamela Morsi (I've been meaning to try this author)
Lady of Sin, Madeline Hunter
In the Midnight Rain, Ruth Wind (heard good things about this one)
Busman's Honeymoon, Sayers (okay, I already have a copy of this, but I love it and it was 50 cents!)
Wicked Day, Mary Stewart
Komarr, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Venetian Mask, Rosalind Laker
Possession, A.S. Byatt
Desiree, Annemarie Selinko (this was a great find, because it's one of my favorites and pretty hard to find and this is a beautiful copy with the dust jacket)

And what made me really, really happy were the four old Mary Stewarts I found. Really nice little British mass market editions from the early 70s. I'm completely in love with the illustration on Madam, Will You Talk?

And here's a picture of the Desiree jacket. Gorgeous!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I love widgets!

I've put a new widget on my sidebar -- scroll down to see it. It's a slideshow of some of my most favorite books.

Mesmerizing, isn't it?

If you would like a widget of your own (and you don't mind advertising a little for Amazon), go here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

An odd assortment of info...

News (some of it not so new) from around the web:

AAR is doing another Top 100 romances poll. I'm going to put my list together, but there's no way I'll be able to come up with 100. I'll shoot for 40. I'll post it here---anyone else who does one, please post it! I'm always interested to see people's favorites.

Loretta Chase wrote a little bit about her next book (Your Scandalous Ways--ooh!) on Word Wenches a couple weeks ago. It's set in Venice! Yippee. About a spy and a divorcee. :) Publication is scheduled for June '08.

The other day I got it into my head that I wanted to re-read "Beginnings," Kelley Armstrong's online short story where Elena and Clay meet, so I popped over to her website. Only to find that the story's been taken down because Armstrong has decided to publish the story (along with several others) in book format! The title will be Men of the Otherworld. I will buy.

You can read her explanation here. Basically, she feels bad about pulling content previously available for free online and selling it in a book, but she's giving all her profits from the book to a charity. So that's okay.

Also noticed on Amazon that the cover is up for her next Otherworld book, Personal Demon. Meh. It matches the others, but I'm not a fan. But I can't wait to read it. Out on March 25 (again in hardcover--I guess the switch from mmpb didn't hurt sales too much).

There's a book trailer for Nora Roberts's new trilogy, Sign of Seven here. The first book (Blood Brothers) is out 11/27 (yippee!). But I was disappointed to find that the other two aren't being published a month afterward, like they sometimes do. :(
The Hollow is out in May '08, The Pagan Stone in December '08. C'mon, Nora, you can't write 6 books in one year?! Sheesh. ;)