Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm Not in Orlando, But . . .

If you are a romance reader who follows blogs, visits Facebook, or reads tweets tremendous and trivial, you know that the 30th annual conference of the Romance Writers of America is being held this week in Orlando (a change of venue due to the devastating floods in Nashville in early May). I’ve never been to one of these conferences. I may never attend one. Even as the romance writer/reader part of me thinks Nationals sound wonderful, the shy, hide-in-the-corner introvert thinks how terrifying the crowd would be. I do, however, enjoy the conference vicariously, and thanks to the miracle of social media, I can indirectly participate in it from shopping for conference clothes to making the exhausting trip home.

I spent way too much time Monday reading about the number of shoes RWA attendees were packing. The record among the tweets I read was nine pairs. If I went to a conference, I’d probably pack two pairs. If I don’t count kick-around sandals and tennis shoes, I’m not sure I own nine pairs of shoes, so I was intrigued by the thought of someone who needed ten pairs for a conference lasting less than a week.

Tuesday I followed comments from the early arrivals. The conference doesn’t officially begin until Thursday morning, but many attendees make a week-long event of it. I was happy to hear that Pirates Terri and Chance from RWR and the Romance Dishes (PJ, Gannon, Buffie, and Andrea) all arrived safely, as did Vixens Maggie, Tiff and JK. Most of Tuesday’s comments centered on fun at Disney World, famous author sightings, reunions with friends, and food and drink. The excitement was so potent that it almost transcended the virtual and became palpable at times.

Wednesday’s big event was the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing. More than 500 authors from A to Y (no Zs on the list) signed books for eager fans. The proceeds from all the books sold during the two-hour event go to ProLiteracy Worldwide. Nora Roberts’s lines are notoriously long, and Sherrilyn Kenyon gets a lot of buzz. But newer lights in the Romance Fiction Galaxy got attention too. I lost count of the number of tweets that praised Tessa Dare’s books and clothes, and I read that Susan Sey sold out of copies of Money, Honey at the signing. (Yay!) [Addendum: Be sure to check out the Smart Bitches' music video of the signing.]

I’ve never been a collector of autographs, but I do cherish my signed-by-the-author books—including a Robyn Carr and a Susan Crandall, gifts from friends attending earlier RWA literacy signings. I’d love to actually meet some of my favorite writers who will be signing, but I’d probably be so awestruck that I’d be speechless. I have been enjoying the photos of the signing and other moments that friends and strangers are sharing. You can see some of the photos too at #rwa10’s hash album. Stopping by The Romance Dish every day to read dishly updates is part of my routine, and I know I can count on PJ and the others to have great photos. I always read AAR’s daily RWA reports, and the Harlequin blog offers interesting news about some familiar names. I’ve even added a column to Tweet Deck so I can read all the #rwa10 tweets. Do I sound obsessed? Just wait.

The big event, of course, is Saturday’s RITA and Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony. I love awards shows, and I think it’s a shame this one isn’t televised. I feel much more personally connected to the RITAs than I do to the Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Grammys, etc. I'd love to see Debbie Macomber receive the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. I don’t know any of the Golden Heart finalists this year, but for the first time I have friends among the RITA finalists, writers whom I’ve watched make the journey from aspiring authors to RITA-nominated romance novelists. I’ll definitely keep an eye on Twitter for early announcement of the winners, and you may hear some loud cheers emanating from 400 miles or so northwest of the awards site.

You know those ballots for the entertainment awards you always see in magazines like TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and People? Well, I have my own ballot for the RITAs. It has all the nominees listed, the books I’ve read highlighted (38 of the 93 finalists), my personal picks starred (a never-to-be-revealed secret), and a space at the top to note the winners as they are announced. I don’t have a pick for romantic suspense since it’s the one category in which I haven’t read even one nominated book, but I have choices for most of the other categories. However, for two single-title categories--Historical Romance, in which I’ve read six of the eight nominated books (four by auto-buy authors), and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements, in which I’ve read five of the seven nominated books(also four by auto-buy authors)--I couldn’t make a choice for winner. I’ll celebrate if any of the books I love win.

I confess that looking over the list also makes me aware of books not on the list that I think belong with these that will be deemed the most excellent of 2009. Eloisa James’s A Duke of Her Own and Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie are glaring omissions from my perspective. Probably every romance fiction fan has a few favorites she thinks deserved to be included.

By Sunday, my vicarious conference experience will have left me almost as tired as if I had actually spent most of the week in Orlando. :-)

What about you? Have you been following the news from Nationals? Have you ever attended a conference? Are you planning to attend one? How many of the nominated books have you read? Do you have RITA favorites? (The list of finalists is posted below. The bolded titles are the books I’ve read.) Are there books missing from the finalists that you wanted to see among them? Or are you indifferent to the whole conference topic and looking forward to Romancelandia settling into its usual routine? And how many pairs of shoes would you take to the conference?

Edited 7/31/2010 to add newly announced RITA winners.

Best First Book Finalists

One Scream Away by Kate Brady--RITA Winner

Grand Central Publishing, Forever

He Calls Her Doc by Mary Brady
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Superromance

The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw
Harlequin Enterprises, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical

Angel Vindicated by Viola Estrella
Ellora’s Cave, Cerridwen Press

The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books

Stolen Fury by Elisabeth Naughton
Dorchester Publishing, Love Spell

Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
Random House Group, Shaye Areheart Books

Contemporary Series Romance Finalists

A Not-So-Perfect Past by Beth Andrews--RITA Winner

Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Superromance

From the Outside by Helen Brenna
Harlequin Enterprises, NASCAR

The Snow-Kissed Bride by Linda Goodnight
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Romance

Single Mom Seeks... by Teresa Hill
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Special Edition

Revealed: a Prince and a Pregnancy by Kelly Hunter
Harlequin Enterprises, Mills and Boon Modern Heat

The Christmas Love-Child by Jennie Lucas
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Presents Extra

One-Night Mistress...Convenient Wife by Anne McAllister
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Presents

Duty, Desire, and the Desert King by Jane Porter
Harlequin Enterprises, Mills and Boon Modern

I Still Do by Christie Ridgway
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Special Edition

Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure Finalists

Mountain Investigation by Jessica Andersen
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Intrigue

The Christmas Stranger by Beth Cornelison
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Romantic Suspense

The Soldier's Secret Daughter by Cindy Dees--RITA Winner
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Romantic Suspense

In Care of Sam Beaudry by Kathleen Eagle
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Special Edition

Silent Watch by Elle Kennedy
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Romantic Suspense

Cold Case Affair by Loreth Anne White
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Romantic Suspense

The Christmas Present by Tracy Wolff
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Superromance

Contemporary Single Title Romance Finalists

Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl
Harlequin Enterprises, HQN

True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

For the Love of Pete by Julia Harper
Grand Central Publishing, Forever

Too Good to Be True by Kristan Higgins--RITA Winner
Harlequin Enterprises, HQN

A Little Light Magic by Joy Nash
Dorchester Publishing, Leisure Fiction

Dirty Sexy Knitting by Christie Ridgway
Penguin Group USA, Berkley

Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis
Kensington Publishing Corp., Brava

Fireside by Susan Wiggs
Harlequin Enterprises, MIRA Books

Historical Romance Finalists

Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books Romance

With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
Grand Central Publishing, Forever

Make Me Yours by Betina Krahn
Harlequin Enterprises, Blaze

Knight of Pleasure by Margaret Mallory
Grand Central Publishing, Forever

The Lone Texan by Jodi Thomas
Penguin Group USA, Berkley

Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas--RITA Winner
Bantam Dell Publishing Group

Taming Her Irish Warrior by Michelle Willingham
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Historical

Inspirational Romance Finalists

The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander--RITA Winner
Thomas Nelson, Inc., Women of Faith Fiction

A Lady Like Sarah by Margaret Brownley
Thomas Nelson, Inc.

The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw
Harlequin Enterprises, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical

Entertaining Angels by Judy Duarte
Kensington Publishing Corp.

An Eye for an Eye by Irene Hannon
Baker Publishing Group, Revell Books

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers

Breach of Trust by Diann Mills
Tyndale House Publishers

The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper by Kathleen Y'Barbo
Random House Publishing, WaterBrook Multnomah

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements Finalists

The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books

Scandal Sheet by Gemma Halliday
Dorchester Publishing

Red's Hot Honky Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi
Harlequin Enterprises, MIRA Books

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal--RITA Winner
Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Discovery

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn
Harlequin Enterprises, MIRA Books

The Accidental Bestseller by Wendy Wax
Penguin Group USA, Berkley

The Virgin's Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I by Jeane Westin
Penguin Group, USA, NAL Trade

Lakeshore Christmas by Susan Wiggs
Harlequin Enterprises, MIRA Books

Paranormal Romance Finalists

What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
Sourcebooks, Inc., Casablanca

Untouchable in Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books

Kiss of a Demon King by Kresley Cole--RITA Winner
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books

My Forbidden Desire by Carolyn Jewel
Grand Central Publishing, Forever

The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu
Dorchester Publishing, Leisure Books

For the Earl's Pleasure by Anne Mallory
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

Darkness Unknown by Alexis Morgan
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Pocket Star

Covet by J.R. Ward
Penguin Group USA, Signet

Mortal Sins by Eileen Wilks
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation

Regency Historical Romance Finalists

Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare
Ballantine/Bantam Dell

Scandal by Carolyn Jewel
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation

Tempting Fate by Alissa Johnson
Dorchester Publishing, Leisure Books

A View to a Kiss by Caroline Linden
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

Revealed by Kate Noble
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn--RITA Winner and New RWA Hall of Fame Member
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride by Elizabeth Rolls
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Historical

Romance Novella Finalists

"A Little Night Magic" by Allyson James in Hot for the Holidays
Penguin Group USA, Berkley, Jove

“The Robber Bride” by Marjorie M. Liu in Huntress
St. Martin’s Press

“Annalise and the Scandalous Rake” by Deb Marlowe in The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Historical

"Charlotte and the Wicked Lord" by Amanda McCabe in The Diamonds of Welbourne Manor
Harlequin Enterprises, Harlequin Historical

“This Wicked Gift” by Courtney Milan in The Heart of Christmas
Harlequin Enterprises, HQN

“On a Snowy Christmas” by Brenda Novak in The Night Before Christmas
Harlequin Enterprises

“The Christmas Eve Promise” by Molly O'Keefe in The Night Before Christmas--RITA Winner
Harlequin Enterprises, Silhouette Special Releases

Romantic Suspense Finalists

One Scream Away by Kate Brady
Grand Central Publishing, Forever

Waking the Dead by Kylie Brant
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation

A Dark Love by Margaret Carroll
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books

Whisper of Warning by Laura Griffin--RITA Winner
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Pocket Star

Stolen Fury by Elisabeth Naughton
Dorchester Publishing, Love Spell

Dark Country by Bronwyn Parry
Hachette Livre, Hachette Australia

Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
Penguin Group USA, Putnam

Kill for Me by Karen Rose
Grand Central Publishing, Vision

Young Adult Romance

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog
Random House Group, Delacorte Press

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter
Hyperion Books for Children

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles--RITA Winner
Walker Books for Young Readers

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, MTV Books

The ABC's of Kissing Boys by Tina Ferraro
Random House Group, Delacorte Press

Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I've Been Reading

Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie was my top romance read of 2009. I had extraordinarily high expectations of Ashley’s second Mackenzie book. Although I don’t think Mac and Isabella’s story quite measures up to Ian’s, I still thought it was an exceptional read. Reunion stories are among my favorites, and when they show why love alone is not enough to guarantee an HEA, I think they are even better. Before the story opens, Mac has realized what he lost when Isabella left him and has reformed. LISM is the story of a second-chance courtship and of Isabella’s coming to trust the man she has never stopped loving. The presence of the other Mackenzies was an extra gift, and Ashley makes them integral to the story rather than affixing them like so many seals on an already wrapped package. I loved LISM and can’t wait for the next Mackenzie book.

All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

I've read that laughter reduces stress and boosts the immune system. If this is true, reading Kristan Higgins is good for my health, physically and mentally. When I read Higgins, I smile, I giggle, I chortle, I even guffaw. All I Ever Wanted followed the pattern in this respect and in providing some lovely, poignant moments as well. The central love story in this one was a winner for me. I found Callie--short for Calliope--likeable and sympathetic. She celebrates her 30th birthday early in the story, the same day she is forced to realize that her dream of an HEA with Mark, her boss and the man she believes to be the LOVE OF HER LIFE, is never going to happen. Most women have a Mark in their past, the charmer who won't commit but wants to leave you still a little bit in love with him. Ian, the vet who becomes the new love interest, is Mark's opposite, a wounded hero with a curmudgeonly facade who prefers animals to people. I think Callie's lucky Ian turns out to be her hero. This is a Higgins book, so, of course, there are quirky secondary characters and a scene-stealing animal (Callie's always shedding husky, Bowie). My one quibble with the book was one of Callie’s internal mentors. Every mention of Betty Boop brought me out of the story, pausing for the "boo boo, be do."

Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

I’ve read this one twice, and it was even better on the second reading. I think winding up a popular series must be an amazingly difficult task, and Kleypas does it superbly with this book. I especially appreciated the Cyrano de Bergerac touch. I’ve loved all of the Hathaways, and I’ve wondered from the beginning what Kleypas would do with Beatrix, one of the most unusual and endearing characters I’ve encountered. In Christopher, Kleypas created a hero who is a perfect mate for the eccentric Beatrix, one who comes to appreciate all that she is and the unorthodox family she comes from. Theirs is a sweet and passionate love story. One of the moments I loved most, however, was a tender one between Leo and his youngest sister: "Bending his head over hers, Leo murmured, "When I give you away at the altar, Bea, I want you to remember something. I'm not really giving you away. I'm merely allowing him the chance to love you as much as the rest of us do." I felt as if Leo were speaking not only for the family but also for the reader.

One Season of Sunshine by Julia London

I’m one of those readers who was hoping London’s next contemporary would give Wyatt Clark, the loser in the love triangle in last year’s Summer of Two Wishes, his HEA. The bad news is that One Season of Sunshine is not Wyatt’s book. The good news is that it is the same kind of emotionally intense book with characters that fully engage the reader. It is as much women’s fiction as romance with Jane Aaron’s search for her birth mother as central to the book as her relationship with widower Asher Price. Jane particularly is a fully realized character with clearly and credibly delineated strengths and weaknesses. I was uncomfortable with the pairing of the nanny and her boss initially, but the characters’ own awareness of the cliché rendered the relationship acceptable. London includes a large cast of secondary characters, but she gives dimension to them all. I loved Jane’s family, and I thought Riley, Asher’s daughter, was one of the best portrayals of an adolescent that I’ve seen in romance fiction. I worried briefly about an ick-factor ending, but that fear proved groundless. My one remaining concern is that the bipolarism of Asher’s wife is one individual’s story, not a representative picture of the disorder. I would like to have seen that information included, if not in the novel itself, then in an author’s note.

Finding Perfect by Susan Mallory

Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Golds books are shaping up to be my favorite Mallery series since the Buchanans. Finding Perfect, the third book in the series, focuses on characters introduced earlier in the series, Pia O’Brian, planner of Fool’s Gold’s year-round schedule of festivals, and Raoul Moreno, former Dallas football star and new resident of Fool’s Gold. Raoul connects this series to an earlier Mallery series, specifically Sweet Spot, the second of the Keyes sisters books. I loved seeing Raoul grownup, and I loved the cameos of Nicole and Hawk. It was also great to see the HEAs of Charity and Josh (Chasing Perfect) and Liz and Ethan (Almost Perfect) in progress. But it was the character of Pia who moved this book to the five-star category for me. First, she's a reformed "mean girl," and that reformation occurs before the story arc of the Fool's Gold books begins. Then, she chooses to have implanted the embryos left to her by her friend who died of cancer. I rejoice in these tweaks to the conventions of romance fiction. I’ve read many romances featuring heroines who gave children up for adoption and several with heroines who served as surrogates, but Pia’s situation was a new one for me. I particularly appreciated the recognition that Crystal was wrong not to tell Pia that she was leaving the embryos to her. That acknowledgement and Pia’s miscarrying one of the embryos rooted the story in reality. Pia and Raoul’s romance is sweet and sexy, if rather predictable, and Fool’s Gold with its cast of quirky, caring characters is a place I’d return to in a heartbeat. Mallery has said she’s writing stories for the Hendrix triplets, Montana, Dakota, and Nevada. I’m looking forward to their stories.

Money, Honey by Susan Sey

One of the reasons I’m selective about the romantic suspense I read is that I prefer the emphasis to fall heavily on the first part of the term. Susan Sey’s debut novel succeeds admirably in this respect. The suspense plot is present, but it never gets in the way of the relationship between Patrick O’Connor, reformed jewel thief turned successful writer, and Liz Brynn, up-tight FBI agent. Both Patrick and Liz have complicated pasts that intrude on their present. The attraction between them is powerful, but each has her/his reasons for being wary. The dialogue is lively, the sexual tension is steamy (but without the fire of a hot romance), and the secondary characters are interesting. Money, Honey reads more like the second book in a series than a debut novel. I’d love to read a prequel or a sequel that gave a bit more back story. But whatever Sey writes next, I look forward to reading it. Light but with more weight than froth is one of my favorite kinds of romances, and Sey has clearly mastered the recipe.

CaddyGirls by V.K. Sykes (historical romance novelist Vanessa Kelly and her husband Randall Sykes)

Golf bores me, tycoon heroes irritate me, and Las Vegas would be in last place among 500 cities I want to visit. Despite these prejudices, I enjoyed this novella that featured a golfer heroine, a self-made billionaire hero, and a Las Vegas setting. Both Torrey Green and Julian Grant are interesting, likeable characters with histories and baggage and passions. Given who they are, their choices to keep their secrets seemed reasonable, and ultimately they both prove they are grown-ups whose hearts are in the right places. The love scenes sizzle, and the ending satisfies a romance-loving reader. CaddyGirls is a stellar debut and a romance that offers something different from the same-old same-old. I expect more terrific reads from this husband and wife duo.

What have you been reading? What quibbles can you move beyond and still rank a book highly?

NOTE: I read free ebooks of All I Ever Wanted (HQN), Finding Perfect (HQN), and CaddyGirls (Carina Press) courtesy of NetGalley and the publishers. I won Money, Honey (Berkley Sensation) at Romance Bandits, where Sey is one of the bloggers. Parts of this blog were first posted as reviews on Goodreads. I don't think self-plagiarism is unethical or illegal.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Test Your Lit IQ (Romancelandia Edition)

Several weeks ago, going through a box that’s been sitting unpacked in my closet since I moved more than two years ago, I came across a tiny book entitled Test Your Literature IQ. It has 200 questions divided into three sections: one for Dabblers, one for Smarter-Than-Mosts and one for Geniuses. The first section, as one would expect, asks easy questions such as “Who wrote The Color Purple?” and “What is the pen name of Samuel Clemens?” Section 2 is a bit more challenging, asking the test-taker to identify quotations such as “I saw the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical naked” and “There are no second acts in American life.” (I knew the first—Allen Ginsberg, Howl--but missed the second—F. Scott Fitzgerald in notes for his unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon). The Genius section is a rather strange mix of fun challenges and tests of esoteric knowledge. I enjoyed matching the imaginary places (Utopia, Erewhon, Wessex, Shangri-La, Serendip) with their creators (Sir Thomas More, Samuel Butler, Thomas Hardy, James Hilton, Horace Walpole), but, except for Plath, I was at a loss when asked which of five authors (Susanna Kaysen, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath) did not spend time in a psychiatric facility. (Fitzgerald did not.) My 172 correct answers qualify me as a “James Joyce Scholar,” a misnomer, I assure you. I never even finished Finnegans Wake.

Since I am a lover of such tests and a lover of romance fiction, it was a logical move from the rediscovered book to thinking what fun a Romancelandia edition of the test would be. Tuesday afternoon I couldn’t summon the energy to (1) clean house, which I must do before a Grands birthday party this weekend; (2) rewrite a section of TLWH, a task mandated by a late-stage epiphany; (3) read in order to reduce the size of my TBR mountain. But I did have a great time creating an abbreviated version (20 questions rather than 200) of Test Your Literature IQ especially for readers of romance.

Are you a Dabbler? A Smarter-Than-Most? A Genius? Read on and find out.

Questions for Dabblers

1. Who is the author of Lord of Scoundrels?
2. During what period is Bet Me set?
3. Who is Phoebe Somerville?
4. What is the name of the kidnapper turned hero in Devil in Winter?
5. For which work did Julia Quinn win her first Rita in 2007?
a. The Duke and I
b. Minx
c. The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever
d. The Lost Duke of Wyndham
e. On the Way to the Wedding

6. Who is Kit Butler’s love interest in Mary Balogh’s A Summer to Remember?
7. Which of these is not a book by Connie Brockway?
a. As You Desire
b. The Bridal Season
c. The Charmer
d. Skinny Dipping
e. My Dearest Enemy

Questions for the Smarter-than-Mosts
1. Which author doesn’t belong in the list?
a. Nora Roberts
b. Christina Dodd
c. J. R. Ward
d. Julie James
e. Sherrilyn Kenyon

2. Who wrote this line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”?
3. What is the pseudonym of Mary Bly, Shakespeare professor and daughter of a renowned poet?
4. Who wrote a lengthy Georgian-set series featuring an aristocratic family with Medieval names and a head of family known as l'eminence noire?
5. Match these famous heroes with their creators:
a. Roarke
b. Derek Craven
c. Mr. Rochester
d. Reginald Davenport
e. Matthew Farrell

Charlotte Bronte
Judith McNaught
Nora Roberts
Lisa Kleypas
Mary Jo Putney

6. How many books have been published in Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series as of July 2010?
7. Which of the following authors has never published a category romance?
a. Nora Roberts
b. Rachel Gibson
c. Jayne Ann Krentz
d. Judith McNaught
e. Linda Howard

Questions for Geniuses

1. Who is the most prolific romance writer of all time?
2. Match the romance author with the blog:
a. Teresa Medeiros
b. Jayne Ann Krentz
c. Anne Gracie
d. Debra Dixon
e. Anna Campbell
f. Julia London

The Goddess Blogs
Word Wenches
Squawk Radio
Romance Bandits
Riding with the Top Down
Running with Quills

3. Who is Harold Lowry?
4. In 1999, a group of Southern writers, most of whom had published romance fiction, started their own small press with an emphasis on the work of Southern storytellers. What is the name of the press?
5. Name any five of the thirteen members of the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.
6. Sherry Thomas is to Meredith Duran as Tessa Dare is to
a. Sara Lindsey
b. Kris Kennedy
c. Jennifer Haymore
d. Courtney Milan
e. Maggie Robinson

How did you do? Comment please. Pose your own questions, query mine, or question the sanity of such quizzes. Tell us how many you think you know. But please do NOT post your answers to the quiz. Next Wednesday (July 21), I’ll post the answers and a Romance Fiction IQ decoder, and the Randomizer will select one poster to win a free book.


1. Loretta Chase
2. 21st century/contemporary
3. The heroine of SEP’s first Chicago Stars book, It Had to Be You
4. Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent
5. On the Way to the Wedding
6. Lauren Edgeworth
7. The Charmer (by Madeline Hunter)

1. Julie James (who has never published a paranormal romance)
2. Jane Austen (the justifiably famous first line of Pride and Prejudice)
3. Eloisa James
4. Jo Beverley (the Mallorens and Rothgar)
5. Heroes
a. Roarke—Nora Roberts, In Death series
b. Derek Craven—Lisa Kleypas, Dreaming of You
c. Mr. Rochester—Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
d. Reginald Davenport—Mary Jo Putney, The Rake and the Reformer & The Rake
e. Matthew Farrell—Judith McNaught, Paradise

6. 10 novels plus 2 novellas
7. Rachel Gibson

1. Barbara Cartland
2. Romance Blogs
a. Teresa Medeiros--Squawk Radio
b. Jayne Ann Krentz--Running with Quills
c. Anne Gracie—Word Wenches
d. Debra Dixon—Riding with the Top Down
e. Anna Campbell—Romance Bandits
f. Julia London—The Goddess Blogs

3. Leigh Greenwood, author of 40+ romance novels, mostly Westerns
4. Belle Books
5. RWA Hall of Famers: Justine Dare, Jennifer Greene, Francine Rivers, Cheryl Zach, Nora Roberts (three times), Kathleen Korbel (Eileen Dreyer), Jo Beverley, LaVyrle Spencer, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jodi Thomas, Kathleen Crighton
6. Courtney Milan (CPs—critique partners)

The winner of the free book is Vi. Please send me your contact info at JangaRho at gmail dot com, and I'll send you your book ASAP.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A New Cinderella Tale: Eloisa James’s A KISS AT MIDNIGHT

I’m a fan of romances with fairy tale themes. Teresa Medeiros, Julia Quinn, Anne Gracie, Elizabeth Hoyt, Judith Ivory, Robin McKinley, Mercedes Lackey—I have fairy tale romances by all of them among my keepers. I have been looking forward to reading A Kiss at Midnight ever since I first read that Eloisa James was writing a Cinderella tale. A favorite romance trope in a novel by one of my favorite romance authors—what could be more designed to delight this reader’s heart? Except—I had this niggling concern. Ever since I researched Cinderella for a grad school paper on Shakespeare’s Cordelia (King Lear), I’ve been bothered by the tendency in American popular culture to apply the term “Cinderella tale” to any story, song, film, real-life relationship, etc. that remotely resembles the fairy tale. I often find myself disappointed, and sometimes irritated, by what I think of as false Cinderellas. How terrible it would be if EJ’s book fell into this group.

I’m happy to report that my concern was for naught.

AKAM is rich in the traditional elements of the Cinderella tale. Heroine with a good and loving heart—check; dead mother—check; absent father—check; heroine as target of step-mother’s venom—check; magical guardian for persecuted heroine—check (Some may disagree on this element, but I’ll argue with anyone that Kate’s godmother is magical.); The Shoe—check. AKAM even boasts a witty transformation of the rats from Charles Perrault’s late-17th-century version, which also adds the glass slipper! EJ acknowledges her debt to Perrault in an afterword. AKAM clearly qualifies as a true Cinderella tale.

The poet W. H. Auden once wrote, “The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.” I found Auden’s advice easy to follow when I read A Kiss at Midnight. I was captivated from the first page. I was a bit worried about AKAM’s captivation quotient too. I prefer Beauty and the Beast to Cinderella because Cinderella is so good and so patient, so much like the character of Griselda of Medieval fame. (I once won an audible laugh from my Chaucer prof by confessing my loathing for this character.) But EJ’s Cinderella, Kate Daltry, is no patient, submissive Griselda, and she’s no saintly, suffering Disney Cinderella either. In the first chapter the reader sees her as an angry, embattled heroine, who has been the protector of servants and tenants since her father’s death. In fact, it is this concern that gives her stepmother a means of forcing Kate to do her bidding rather than this Cinderella’s meek submission to villainous authority. I loved Kate. From the fierce protector of chapter one to the drowsy princess of the final chapter, she is fully human and wholly enchanting.

EJ adds other twists to her tale as well. Mariana, the stepmother, is appropriately vain, selfish, and vindictive, but she has only one daughter rather than the traditional pair, and this daughter, Victoria, is a far cry from the "mean girls" of the ancient tale. There is a wonderful twist that I won’t mention for fear of spoilers, but if you’ve read the excerpts, you will be prepared for it. EJ’s prince is no closer to the traditional fairy tale prince that Kate is to the angelic Cinderella. I’ve always thought the prince in the usual tale was rather boring. He’s little more than a handsome face, overflowing coffers, and a means to the HEA for the deserving heroine. EJ’s prince, in contrast, is no cipher. Gabriel is arrogant, intelligent, responsible, conflicted, and lusty. The last is important. AKAM is a 21st-century romance novel, after all.

Finally, the feminist in me rejoices that Kate, with her godmother’s help and her mother’s legacy, saves herself. I further rejoice that Eloisa James makes clear that while Gabriel has the power to break Kate’s heart, she can survive and build a life should he make the wrong choice. I rejoice yet again that it is Gabriel who has to prove himself worthy of Kate, not by meeting an externally imposed criterion for beauty (small feet for the traditional Cinders Girl) but by recognizing the supremacy of love.

Can you tell this book filled me with joy? :)

Readers who are fans of EJ’s series may be a bit disappointed that some of the characters in AKAM will not have books of their own. All of the ends are tied up nicely in HEA bows, but I fell in love with one secondary character that I would have been happy to see as the hero of another book. But although it’s her first stand-alone novel, EJ endows AKAM with the intelligence, humor, and pathos readers look for in her books. The story also has the literary allusions, the funny names, and the female friendships that are EJ trademarks. AKAM is distinctly an Eloisa James book, but it’s one with a difference.

I have a tradition of my own that I began with the first EJ book I read. I always note one sentence that stops me cold and sends me back to reread it, sometimes more than once, to glory in its perfection for the scene, for the character. My favorite such moment in AKAM is this one: “He closed his eyes for a moment, and the color of his eyelashes was like the color of regret. With a kind of piercing sorrow, she knew that she would never forget this prince.” Sigh!

I highly recommend A Kiss at Midnight.

I also recommend for other lovers of fairy tales that you participate in EJ’s current contest. Find your dream fairy tale shoe and share it. You can find the details at, and the prizes are terrific (a Nook for one lucky contestant). And, even if you aren’t entering, go over to the Fairy Tale Shoe Flickr Group to see the fantastic entries. Joining EJ’s fans on Facebook will garner you a second chance at a Nook. The details for the Facebook Fans giveaway can also be found at EJ’s web site.

Are you a fan of fairy tale themes in romance fiction? Do you prefer those faithful to tradition, or do you like to see an author tweak the conventions? What are your favorite fairy tale romances?

Note: In the interest of full disclosure and to appease the FTC, I hereby state that I received an ARC of A Kiss at Midnight at no cost. As most of you know, I’m a moderator at the Eloisa James/Julia Quinn bulletin board. Neither the free book nor the mod status affected my review of this book.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Top Ten Reads of 2010 (So Far)

We are officially halfway through the year, and I always take stock of the year’s reading at this point. I’ve read 137 books so far; a couple of dozen of them were rereads of old favorites, including some new reissues like Jo Beverley’s The Stanforth Secrets and Loretta Chase’s “The Mad Earl’s Bride,” and another dozen or so were literary fiction titles with a sprinkling of non-fiction. But most of my reading in 2010 has consisted of books published this year—heavy on romance with some women’s fiction and mysteries for variety. The first half of the year has been generous in providing reading pleasure. A fair number of the books I’ve read have been added to my keeper shelves, and many more have made me laugh or cry, wonder or remember, and sometimes all of the above. But even among favorite reads, there are those that stand out.

These are the ten that are my top reads of the year so far (in alphabetical order by author):

1. A Matter of Class, Mary Balogh
I admit to complaining about this one. I winced at the price, particularly given the length of the book—somewhere between a novella and a novel. But I’ve been a Mary Balogh fan since her first book; only Nora Roberts accounts for more of my keepers. So I bought it, and I loved it. I loved Reginald and Annabelle, I loved the “matter of class,” I loved the twist (which I figured out quite early), and I loved the sweetness of this most satisfying story.

2. What the Librarian Did, Karina Bliss
This was my first Karina Bliss book, and it is a gem. How often do you find a book that pairs a reformed druggie rock star with a librarian hooked on vintage clothes? WTLD is sweet and sexy and funny and poignant, and it shows how terrific a category read can be at its best.

3. The Forbidden Rose, Joanna Bourne
This is a story about love and trust, about large events that make up the histories of nations and small moments that make up the lives of individuals. The characters are complex and compelling, the story so engaging that it doesn’t seem to end but just moves from the page to the reader’s memory, and the prose so lucid and simple that it set me to paring my own. Joanna Bourne has the gift of creating stories that appeal to the reader’s head and heart. I loved Maggie and Doyle's story, and I’m already impatiently waiting for Bourne's next book.

4. The Goddess of Fried Okra, Jean Brashears
I reviewed Goddess in April, and I’ve already revisited this book. It's one of those books that lingers in the memory, its characters popping up unexpectedly like old friends you haven't seen in a while. It has many champions. Eloisa James praised it in one of her columns for B&N. All I can add is that if you haven’t read this book yet, you are missing a rare treat.

5. Something About You, Julie James
Contemporaries where both the H/H act like adults with brains and hearts as well as sex organs are not exactly common, but these are the kind of books that Julie James writes. I think SAY is her best yet. Jack and Cameron are appealing as individuals and as a couple. The dialogue is great, the danger is credible, and the sexual tension is superbly done. (There’s a motorcycle scene that I’ve studied a dozen times to see how JJ accomplishes this.) It's a terrific book--romantic comedy at its best.

6. Marrying the Royal Marine, Carla Kelly
I continue to be amazed that every book Carla Kelly writes is not on bestseller lists. I’d especially like to see those who complain that romance writers are incapable of writing realistic tales read Kelly. Marrying the Royal Marine is the third of her books about the illegitimate daughters of a villainous aristocrat. Kelly again writes about ordinary people who have extraordinary heart and courage. She writes about war and makes the suffering of the innocent, the humanity of the enemy, and the brutality of “our” side painfully real. Practical Polly Brandon, clear-sighted though spectacled, and her Scotsman with a French name, the decent and honorable Hugh Junot, join a long list of unforgettable Kelly characters. For me, the name Carla Kelly is synonymous with keeper.

7. The Irish Warrior, Kris Kennedy
I used to say I almost never read medieval romances. Kris Kennedy is changing my reading pattern. I loved The Conqueror last year, and The Irish Warrior is even better. I found the dye-witch tale intriguing, and while Senna is a wonderful heroine, it is Finian, with his strength, honor, passion, and humor, who catapults this book over others I also loved to place TIW among my top ten.

8. Song of Seduction, Carrie Lofty
Sometimes I just want to read something totally different from my usual choices, and Song of Seduction certainly meets this criterion. Set in Salzburg in 1804, featuring a pair of musicians as H/H, flawed characters with scars and secrets, with sex scenes that merit the hot label various reviewers have assigned but that nevertheless are part of a gradually developing, complex relationship, SOS is unique. It’s one of Carina Press’s first releases, and if it’s indicative of the quality of romances, CP will be releasing, they can count me among their readers.

9. Seven Secrets of Seduction, Anne Mallory
I’ve enjoyed Anne Mallory’s other books, but Seven Secrets of Seduction is the first one that made me understand why some of my friends are Mallory fanatics. Even though the book-loving heroine is common in romance, Miranda herself is uncommon in her character and in her experience. Max is a dangerous hero, and he challenges the reader as effectively as he challenges Miranda. I don’t want to wander into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say,"Read this one." I think you’ll understand those Mallory fanatics too.

10. Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn
I’m an unabashed fan of all books by Julia Quinn. I buy them to be entertained, to laugh, to have my heart touched by the humanness of her characters. While I certainly have my favorites among her books, she never fails to provide exactly what I spent my money expecting. Quite often she offers more. TTILAY was no exception. I fell in love with Sebastian Grey in What Happened in London when he read from a Gothic romance. Seeing him as the author of that romance, as a soldier affected by war, as a man who falls in love deeply and unexpectedly just added to his appeal. Annabel, the Winslow Most Likely to Speak Her Mind, almost deserves him. And in Annabel’s grandmother, Lady Vickers, JQ has created a scene stealer to rival Lady Danbury from the Bridgerton books. A fun read that tugs at the heart as effectively as it tickles the funny bone.

By December, this list may change. In fact I just recently read a July release that will definitely enter my top ten. But whether these books stay in my top ten or not, they are all keepers. Each one gave me much reading pleasure, and I know I’ll be rereading them all. They are all winners.

What are your top reads for the first six months of 2010? Have you read any on my list?