Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Heart Contemporaries!

I spent a couple of hours last week catching up on my reading journal, and I was dismayed to realize that of the twenty-three books published May-July that I was adding to my keeper shelves, only four were contemporaries. I used to read more contemporaries than historicals. When did that change?

I still get as excited as ever about a new book from Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Robyn Carr, Toni Blake, or Rachel Gibson. I was wildly vocal about my delight when Nora Roberts returned to the straight contemporary with her new Wedding Quartet, and I’ll probably lead my own marching band if Jenny Crusie ever joins her. I think Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries are just as wonderful as her historicals, and I’ve added Kristan Higgins and Julie James to my autobuy list. I drove all over town looking for a copy of Liz Bevarly’s Neck & Neck. So it’s not as if I’ve forsaken contemporaries.

But I can’t deny that I am reading fewer, and even fewer are joining my keepers. I think of five friends who have joined/will soon join the ranks of published authors, and I realize that all of them write historicals. I’m concerned. I not only read contemporaries, but I also write them. I’d like to think my dream of publication has some chance of being realized.

Sarah from Smart Bitches and Jane from Dear Author are promoting an ongoing Save the Contemporary movement. It sounds like an endangered species protection act to me, so this blog is my contribution to the action. Here’s my list of all-time favorite contemporary romances—single-title only. With Harlequin’s sales, I don’t think categories are endangered, so I’ll save favorite categories for another blog.

Till the Stars Fall, Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Lovers reunited is my favorite theme, so it’s not surprising that TTSF is one of my most beloved books. Seidel has the gift of creating characters so real the reader feels she might run into them at the supermarket or a neighborhood party. Krissa and Quinn are mature, intelligent, and flawed characters whose past is part of their present. I love the way Seidel weaves strands from the larger culture into their story. I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve read this book, but every time I do I sigh “Perfect” as I turn the last page.

In the Midnight Rain, Ruth Wind
This book by Barbara Samuel writing as Ruth Wind is an extraordinary book in every way. More than their professions make Ellie Connor, who writes about musicians, and Blue Reynard, who raises orchids, atypical as heroine and hero. They are wounded people whose strengths are hard-earned and whose pasts persist in intruding on the present. The same could be said of the town, Pine Bend, Texas, which becomes another character in the book.

A Place to Call Home, Deborah Smith
Claire Maloney, the daughter of a prominent family in Dunderry, Georgia, and Roan Sullivan, son of the town drunk, meet at a St. Patrick’s Day parade when she is five and he is ten. The bond they form as children cannot be destroyed by other people or by life’s vicissitudes. Twenty years after they are separated, they meet again. I’m beginning to see a pattern here. In APTCH too, the past proves its power in the present, but Claire and Roan share a love that overcome the obstacles of once-was and the now-is.

Sea Swept, Nora Roberts
I could easily write about my top ten Nora Roberts contemporaries. She has her own double-rowed keeper shelf in my house. But Sea Swept is my favorite. I love the premise of the Chesapeake Bay series: the childless couple who adopt three lost boys and the fourth lost boy who becomes the youngest brother, a last gift from their father. But Cameron Quinn, the baddest boy of the group, and the fiery Anna Spinelli—two people determined to remain unattached who are conquered by love--are my favorites.

Virgin River, Robyn Carr
I have a deep affection for community-based stories, and Robyn Carr’s Virgin Rover series is among the best. I particularly love Virgin River, the first book, because it shows a woman almost felled by an unbearable loss who is healed by a combination of her own resilience, a community’s acceptance, and the love of a man who won’t give up. Even in the other books in the series, I look for Mel and Jack. Theirs is an HEA to keep cherishing.

Dream a Little Dream, Susan Elizabeth Phillips
I’d hate to give up any of my SEP keepers, and choosing between DALD and First Lady as a top favorite was a difficult task. But DALD won out because it offers an angst-ridden love story between two wounded creatures, Rachel and Gabe, and a lighter, sweeter secondary love story between Kristy and Gabe’s minister-brother, Ethan. DALD is also rare in non-inspirational romance in that religious faith is part of the book. I appreciate Phillips’ giving a balanced portrait. Rachel’s former televangelist husband who perverted the faith he preached is offset by Ethan who struggles to reconcile a faith based on mercy and love with his all-too-human anger and thirst for revenge.

Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas
Kleypas brings the same mix of heat and heart to her contemporaries that have made her historical favorites. Sugar Daddy and Blue-Eyed Devil are both keepers for me too, but I will admit to my shallowness here. I chose Smooth Talking Stranger over the other two because I love Jack Travis. His combination of good-ole-boyness and tender nurturer just melts my heart. Ella evokes my sympathy, but it’s Jack that makes this book a winner.

Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie
Crusie’s description of her hero might have been enough on its on to make this book a favorite: Phineas Tucker "looked like every glossy frat boy in every nerd movie ever made, like every popular town boy who'd ever looked right through her in high school, like every rotten rich kid who'd ever belonged where she hadn't." But to that she adds the best lust-turns-to-love story I’ve ever read, a cast of memorable secondary characters, and the hilarity I look for in a Crusie. I love Bet Me and Fast Women, but WTT is the Crusie I return to most often.

My Man Pendleton, Elizabeth Bevarly
I’m a long-time Bevarly fan. She has written some of my favorite categories, but MMP is Bevarly at her best. Kit is just this side of ditzy, but if you are a fan of classic screwball comedies, as I am, you will love her. And Pendleton—ah, Pendleton! He’s smart, confident, and hot. His way with language alone captures my heart. I still laugh when I read his business advice: "In my opinion, sir, the implementation of such a visionary objective does seem to impact our mission statement, but I wonder if it won't be more productive in segmenting our quality group."

Just the Sexiest Man Alive, Julie James
Julie James is romantic comedy’s best hope. Her first book was such fun to read. The exchanges between successful lawyer Taylor Donovan and Jason Andrews, People's "Sexiest Man Alive” reminded me of a modernized Hepburn-Tracy verbal duel. Even more remarkable is than in an age of insert-sex-scene-here romances, James creates a book with irresistible appeal that has a ton of sexual tension but little sex.

Do you read contemporaries? What are your favorites? Do your part to save the contemporary and share.


J.K. Coi said...

Thanks for the list!
I've had smooth talking stranger on my pile for a little while and can't wait to read it!

Santa said...

Here's my list of favorite contemporaries:

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Not Another Blind Date by Rachel Gibson
My Man Pendalton by Elizabeth Bevarly
Thigh High by Christina Dodd
The Return of Rafe McCabe by Nora Roberts

Yes to Robyn Carr. Please add the rest of those series for both Christina Dodd and Nora Roberts. Oh, and Elizabeth Bevarly's Male series. My list goes on and on.

Save the contemporary? Send me my ribbon now.

terrio said...

We have to save them, Janga, or both of us are in trouble. And so it Santa for that matter.

Not sure I could come up with a specific list of favorites as mine would date back to McNaught, Lowell (before she got really Thriller like), Spencer, and Garwood. Nora, of course, and SEP. Then Lisa's for more recent ones.

I've been accumulating more and more contemps lately. Several from Rachel Gibson, Jenny Crusie, Kristan Higgins, Victoria Dahl, and lots of SEPs that I haven't gotten to. As soon as I finish Eloisa's latest (sigh), I plan on diving into these contemps.

Janga said...

J.K., I think all of Lisa Kleypas' contemporaries are marvels, but I fell for Jack in a big way. He's an idealized version of men I know.

San, We really should have ribbons. :) I like your list. Your mention of Thigh High made me think of Trouble in High Heels and gave me an idea for another blog.

Terri, I love McNaught's Paradise and Perfect. Paradise was almost #10 on my list. I prefer Dahl's historicals, but I do like her contemps. Karen Hawkins is another I'd add to my list. I'm really looking forward to her next one.

Beth said...

My heart lies with historicals, but there are contemporaries that I do like. Janye Ann Krentz writes great contemporaries as does Jennifer Crusie, though I wish Crusie would stop collaborating for a while and write another great one on her own like Bet Me again. The one complaint about a couple of the contemporaries I have read lately is the necessity of children. The HEA isn't truly a HEA until the heroine gets pregnant. I am thinking of Robyn Carr and Janet Chapmen in particular. I have really enjoyed their books, but I find myself getting irritated that pregnancy means true happiness. In a historical this is much more understandable, but in a contemporary I find it tiresome. Maybe I have just read too many in a row with this plot component because I know it isn't always true, but what do you think? Is it necessary or even desirable to have the contemporary heroine always end up with a baby?

Tris said...

I was about to say that I don't read that many contemporaries, but when I took a look at my shelf, I saw that it was a 50-50 tie. With all my Nora Roberts, Rachel Gibson's, SEPs, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Kasey Michaels, and other books tucked here and there, there are actually more contemporaries then I realize.

And seriously. The book stores here are wonky. The contemporary romance books are not put in the "romance section", they are put in the "fiction section". I'm not sure if this is normal or not but it's very hard to pick up a new-contemp'-romance-author's book if I'm not sure if it's a romance or not.

Janga said...

Beth, I haven't seen release dates yet, but I know Crusie has a couple of solo books in the works. They aren't romances, but I'll try anything she writes.

I think the baby thing is particularly pronounced in the Virgin River series. That must be the most fertile community in romance fiction. :) Maybe you should reread Bet Me as an antidote. LOL!

Twis, how strange about the romance shelving. Most contemporaries here are in romance, but I never know where to look for the women's fiction authors I read.

My favorite UBS is located in a house. She has a room for historical romance and another for contemporary. I only wish she sold new books too.

terrio said...

Beth - In a workshop at Nationals it was announced that Crusie and Mayer have parted ways. So I'm hoping that means we'll get more of her stand alone contemporaries.

I'm trying to think of the "baby as HEA in contemps" I've read and can only think of one - Ain't She Sweet. But that was because the heroine getting pregnant (or not) was a part of the story.

In a contemp, I'd think it more believable if they don't start the HEA/marriage with a baby on the way.

PJ said...

I read a lot of contemporaries and I don't see them going anywhere. There are just too many great contemporary authors out there and more new ones entering the market every year. Many of my fave contemporary authors have already been named. Some others that I enjoy reading are Kristin Hannah, Barbara Freethy, Julie Ortolon, Cathi Linz, Stef Ann Holm, Sherryl Woods and Susan Mallery.

I'd have a very hard time naming my top 5 books. There are so many really good contemps out there.

quantum said...

I do have favourite authors but decline to specify specific titles as I haven't read enough to be that specific. From your list I would include Kleypass, Crusie, SEP and Roberts.

I like to support home talent whenever possible and Mrs Q is recommending Rosamunde Pilcher, a bonny Scottish Lass. I have an audio version of 'Winter Solstice' which I'm about to try.

Seems I've broken my 'non-specific' rule, but thats OK for Brits *grin*

Janga, I wonder if you rate Pilcher at all. I would greatly value your opinion.

Stimulating and informative blog as always! *smile*