Thursday, December 30, 2010

To-Be-Read 2011

We haven’t bid an official farewell to 2010 yet, but I already have well over a hundred books on my To-Be-Read list for 2011. Some of the books I most anticipate aren’t on the list because despite my diligent research, I was unable to find titles and/or release dates for them. I do the happy dance every time I remember that Manda Collins’s debut book will be in bookstores near me in 2011—or maybe 2012. I know Tessa Dare has another trilogy in the works, beginning with A Night to Surrender in early fall 2011, and Sophia Nash is introducing a new series sometime this year as well. I have my fingers crossed that 2011 also brings new books from Joanna Bourne, Connie Brockway, Anne Gracie, Teresa Medeiros, Pamela Morsi, Deanna Raybourn, and Sherry Thomas among others.

I believe 2011 has wonderful things in store for all of us. I’m sure it’s going to be another stellar reading year. Just cast your eyes upon the wonders I’m awaiting. While these are all books I long to read, some do fill me with a special eagerness. My most anticipated book is a mystery, Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier. It's been a long time between books for Spencer-Fleming fans. I'm thrilled that Tracy Grant will have a new book (Vienna Waltz) out this year, albeit under a different name (Teresa Grant) and with a new set of characters (sort of).  Mary Balogh said ages ago that she would write the story of Lady Angeline Dudley, Tresham (More Than a Mistress) and Lord Ferdinand's (No Man's Mistress) sister, and of Edward Ailsbury, Earl of Heyward. I can't wait to read that one. Julia Quinn's Smyth-Smith book is another one that I, along with many others, have been looking forward to for some time. Madeline Hunter and Kate Moore will be ending series with characters that already have my allegiance. Of course, if I had world enough and time, I could give you a reason that I look forward to each book on my list.

Do note that this list makes no pretensions to be a comprehensive list. It’s a list of books I plan to read based on my reading preferences. There are subgenres that I read rarely or not at all. Most of the books on the list are romances, but there are also mysteries, women’s fiction, YA, and general fiction. I’ve given my best effort to seeing that titles and release dates are accurate, but both—especially for books scheduled for publication in the second half of the year—may change. You will note that I found few titles for the last four months of the year and most of the ones I did find have only the month of publication. The bolded titles are books I’ve read as eARCS that I expect to purchase as paperbacks.

Finally, I promise a blog next week that is not a list. :-)


Sophie Gunn How Sweet It Is 1/3

Karina Bliss Here Comes the Groom (HSR) 1/4
Beverley Kendall A Taste of Desire 1/4
Debbie Macomber Family Affair 1/4
Christie Ridgway Then He Kissed Me (Three Kisses, Book 2) 1/4
Kaki Warner Chasing the Sun (Blood Rose Trilogy #3) 1/4

Sabrina Jeffries How to Woo a Reluctant Lady (Hellions of Halstead Hall, Book 3) 1/18

Susan Elizabeth Phillips Call Me Irresistible 1/18

Lauren Willig The Orchid Affair (pink carnation, Book 6) 1/20

Catherine Anderson Here to Stay 1/25
Robyn Carr Wild Man Creek (Virgin River, Book 12) 1/25
Cara Elliott To Tempt a Rake (Circle of Sin, Book 3)
Barbara Freethy At Hidden Falls (Angel’s Bay, Book 4) 1/25
Laura Lee Guhrke Scandal of the Year (Abandoned at the Altar, Book 2) 1/25
Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, Book 2) 1/25
Eloisa James When Beauty Tamed the Beast 1/25
Courtney Milan Unveiled 1/25
Susan Wiggs Marrying Daisy Bellamy (The Lakeshore Chronicles, Book 8) 1/25


Elizabeth Bevarly The Billionaire Gets His Way (SD) 2/1
Jo Beverley, Sally Mackenzie, Vanessa Kelly, & Caitlyn O’Riley An Invitation to Sin 2/1
Tiffany Clare The Seduction of His Wife 2/1
Julia Justiss Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman (HH) 2/1
Sarah Mayberry The Last Goodbye (HSR) 2/1
Molly O’Keefe His Wife for One Night (HSR) 2/1

Janet Mullany Mr. Bishop and the Actress 2/3

Carla Kelly Borrowed Light 2/8

Emily March Angel’s Rest (Eternity Springs, Book 1) 2/15
Jill Marie Landis Heart of Lies 2/15

Robyn Carr Harvest Moon (Virgin River, Book 13) 2/22
Julia London A Light at Winter’s End (Cedar Springs, Book 3) 2/22
Julie Anne Long What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green, Book 5) 2/22
Anne Mallory One Night Is Never Enough 2/22


Jo Beverley An Unlikely Countess (Malloren World, Book 11) 3/1
Julie James A Lot Like Love 3/1
Janice Kay Johnson Bone Deep (HSR) 3/1
M. J. Putney Dark Mirror (YA) 3/1
Margaret Rowe Any Wicked Thing 3/1

Jennifer Greene Yours, Mine, and Ours (SSE) 3/22
Kristin Hannah Night Road 3/22
Emily March Hummingbird Lake (Eternity Springs, Book 2) 3/22
Cheryl Reavis The Music Box 3/22

Katharine Ashe Captured by a Rogue Lord 3/29
Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Candice Hern, & Stephanie Laurens It Happened One Season 3/29
Eileen Dreyer Never a Gentleman (Drake’s Rakes, Book 2) 3/29
Gaelen Foley My Irresistible Earl (Inferno Club, Book 3) 3/29
Teresa Grant Vienna Waltz 3/29
Kristan Higgins My One and Only 3/29
Susan Mallery Already Home 3/29
Jill Shalvis The Sweetest Thing (Lucky Harbor Book #2) 3/29
Roxanne St. Claire Shiver of Fear (The Guardian Angelinos #2) 3/29
Susan Wiggs The Goodbye Quilt 3/29


Beth Pattillo The Dashwood Sisters Tell All 4/1
Sherryl Woods Driftwood Cottage (Chesapeake Shores, Book 5) 4/1

Christina Dodd Taken by the Prince (Governess Brides, Book 9) 4/5
Erica Ridley Too Sinful to Deny 4/5
Jodi Thomas Texas Blue (Whispering Mountain, Book 5) 4/5

Nora Roberts Chasing Fire 4/12

Amanda Quick Quicksilver (The Looking Glass Trilogy, Book #2) 4/19
Luanne Rice The Silver Boat 4/19

Anna Campbell Midnight’s Wild Passion 4/26
Liz Carlyle One Wicked Glance 4/26
Rachel Gibson Any Man of Mine 4/26
Madeline Hunter Dangerous in Diamonds (The Rarest Blooms, Book 4) 4/26
Kris Kennedy Defiant 4/26
Kieran Kramer Cloudy With A Chance of Marriage (Impossible Bachelor, Book 3) 4/26
Debbie Macomber A Turn in the Road (Blossom Street, Book 8) 4/26
Sarah MacLean Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love by Numbers, Book 3) 4/26
Emily March Heartache Falls (Eternity Springs, Book 3) 4/26
Mia Marlowe Touch of a Thief 4/26
Julia Spencer Fleming One Was a Soldier (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van book 7) 4/26
Roxanne St. Claire Face of Danger (Guardian Angelinos #3) 4/26
Mary Jo Putney Nowhere Near Respectable (Lost Lords, Book 3) 4/26
Kathryn Smith When Tempting a Rogue (Victorian Soap Opera, Book 3) 4/26


Beth Andrews The Prodigal Son (Diamond Dust Trilogy, Book 2) 5/3
Kate Carlisle Murder Under Cover (Bibliophile Mystery, Book 4) 5/3
Vanessa Kelly My Favorite Countess (Book 3 in series) 5/3
Mary Alice Monroe The Butterfly’s Daughter 5/3
Kate Noble Follow My Lead 5/3
Wendy Wax Ten Beach Road 5/3
Karen White The Beach Trees 5/3

Jill Barnett In the Mood 5/6

Libba Bray Beauty Queens 5/24
Tiffany Clare The Secret Desires of a Governess (Book 2 in series) 5/24

Elizabeth Boyle Lord Langley Is Back in Town (Bachelor Chronicles, Book 9) 5/31
Karen Hawkins Scandal in Scotland (Hurst Amulet, Book 2) 5/31
Julia Quinn Just Like Heaven (Smyth-Smith Quartet, Book 1) 5/31
Sherryl Woods Beach Lane (Chesapeake Shores, Book 7) 5/31

Sara Lindsey A Rogue for All Seasons (Westons, Book 3)


Grace Burrowes The Soldier (Book 2 in series) 6/1

Mary Kay Andrews Summer Rental 6/7
Christie Kelley One Night Scandal 6/7
Susan Sey Money Shot (Book 2 in series) 6/7

Erica Bauermeister Joy for Beginners 6/9

Lerner, Rose A Lily Among Thorns 6/11

Ann Brashares Sisterhood Everlasting (Traveling Pants, Book 6) 6/14
Dorothea Benton Frank Folly Beach 6/14

Sophie Littlefield A Bad Day for Scandal (Stella Hardesty Mystery 3) 6/21
Brenda Novak Inside (Bulletproof Series, Book 1) 6/21
Anne Stuart Shameless (House of Rohan, Book 4) 6/21

Jane Graves Black Ties and Lullabies 6/28
Loretta Chase Silk Is for Seduction 6/28
Meredith Duran A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal 6/28
Jane Graves Black Ties and Lullabies 6/28 

Lorraine Heath Waking Up with the Duke (London’s Greatest Lovers, Book 3) 6/28
Bobbie Ann Mason The Girl in the Blue Beret 6/28
Sarah Strohmeyer Kindred Spirits 6/30


Rice, Patricia The Devilish Montague (Rebellious Sons, Book 2) 7/5
Christie Ridgway Can’t Hurry Love (Three Kisses, Book 3) 7/5
JoAnn Ross One Summer (Shelter Bay, Book 2) 7/5
Kaki Warner Heartbreak Creek (Runaway Brides, Book 1) 7/5

Mary Balogh The Secret Mistress (prequel to Mistress series) 7/26
Carlyle, Liz The Bride Wore Scarlet 7/26/11
Neville, Miranda The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (Burgundy Club, Book 3) 7/26
Warren, Tracy Anne The Bed and the Bachelor 7/26/11
Diane Whiteside, Maggie Robinson, and Mia Marlowe Improper Gentlemen 7/26

Helen Brenna The Pursuit of Jesse (Mirabelle Island, Book 5)


Jennifer Haymore Confessions of an Improper Bride 8/1

Jennifer Ashley The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (MacKenzies, Book 3) 8/2
Meg Benjamin Long Time Gone (Konigsburg, Book 3) 8/2—print release
Christina Dodd Secrets of Bella Terra (Scarlet Deception, Book 1) 8/2
Louisa Edwards Too Hot to Touch (Recipe for Love, Book 4) 8/2
Donna MacMeans Redeeming the Rogue 8/2

Julie Garwood The Ideal Man 8/9

Maggie Robinson Mistress by Marriage (Courtesan Court Trilogy, Book 3) 8/30

Susan Andersen Playing Dirty
Beth Andrews Feels Like Home (Diamond Dust Trilogy, Book 3)
Helen Brenna Her Sure Thing (Mirabelle Island, Book 6)


Jane Graves Heartstrings and Diamond Rings 9/1

Jeanne Adams Deadly Little Lies 9/6

Helen Brenna Redemption at Mirabelle (Mirabelle Island, Book 7)
Debbie Macomber 1105 Yakima Street (Cedar Cove, Book 11)
Kate Moore To Seduce an Angel (Sons of Sin, Book 3)
Brenda Novak In Seconds (Bulletproof, Book 2)


Courtney Milan Unclaimed


Toni Blake Holly Lane (Destiny, Book 4)
Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, Book 3)
Brenda Novak In Close (Bulletproof, Book 3)

What books are you most looking forward to reading in 2011?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reading Beside the Christmas Tree, 2010

My favorite read this Christmas season is not a Christmas book at all but a novella-length fairy tale that has one of the most unexpected opening scenes that I’ve encountered in my decades of reading romance fiction. I loved every scene of Eloisa James’s latest gift to her readers, Storming the Castle. That gem of an opening scene is detailed in my reading journal, so the next time someone asks about breaking the rules of romance . . . The ending is a perfect fantasy that reminded me of the fairy tales I read as a child and of the 12th-century lais of Marie de France. Like many of those who read A Kiss at Midnight, I finished the novel longing for an HEA for Jonas Berwick, familiarly known as Wick, the bastard brother of Gabriel, the hero prince of AKAM. It’s not giving anything away to say that in STC Wick gets his HEA with an endearing heroine and Kate and Gabriel and their colicky baby add a note of realism to the concept of happily ever after. If you want a full review, check out PJ’s at The Romance Dish. This is not a review. It’s my announcement that I’ve already received one perfect gift this season from the imagination of one of my favorite authors, and I didn’t have to brave the chilly weather and rampaging shoppers to get STC. I downloaded it from an online retailer for $1.99.

I’m less enthusiastic about a true Christmas book, as opposed to a book read and/or released during the season, from another favorite author. I have loved Lisa Kleypas’s contemporaries as much as her historicals, and I was so eager to read Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, the first in a new series, that I didn’t even consider waiting to get it from my local library, my usual practice with hardback releases that I am unwilling to delay reading until paperback publication. And I loved much about this book. The setting is as dimensional and gorgeous as the cover suggests, the premise of the story (bachelor uncle becomes father, falls in love with heroine who bonds with his new charge) is one I enjoy, and I found the characters from the H/H to the orphaned niece to the hero’s brothers (one charmer, one brooder) to the heroine’s father (a minor note) interesting and engaging. But I ended up feeling cheated. The story and the characters deserved more than even the gifted Kleypas could give them in just over 200 pages. Mark Nolan’s life was transformed by the death of his sister and the guardianship of his niece, as was the life of Maggie Collins by the slow death of her young husband. These are characters dealing with real issues that resonate with many readers. Whether loss comes in an instant in an accident or over long months of a fearful disease, it is a messy experience with uneven progress toward recovery from grief. Kleypas shows her readers that grief makes Mark and Maggie into different people, but their journeys and the journey of Holly, the little girl who loses her mother, seemed simplistic to me. (Forgive my pedanticism, but I see “simplistic misused so often I feel I must add that calling something “simplistic” is not the same as praising its “simplicity.” The latter can be powerful; the former is oversimplifying something by ignoring complexities.) Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is not a bad book. I don’t regret reading it, and I look forward to the stories of the other Nolan brothers. But it was less than I expected from this author, and I do wish I’d waited for the library copy.

A Christmas story that did not disappoint was Karina Bliss’s novella in the Harlequin SuperRomance anthology That Christmas Feeling. The other stories in the anthology—Brenda Novak’s “A Dundee Christmas” with an illegal immigrant as a heroine and Kathleen O’Brien’s “We Need a Little Christmas” about an old man, his estranged grandson, and the woman who works to see them reconciled—are warm, feel-good stories, but Bliss’s “Kiss Me, Santa” has the something extra that carries a story to the A level for me. This story too is a story about grief. I don’t think I’ve consciously noted before how many Christmas romances have grief as a theme. Mike Ward sounds the Scroogy note in a community chorus of holiday harmony that manifests itself in elaborate Christmas decorations. A widower who feels responsible for his wife’s death, Mike has come to New Zealand to escape solicitous family and friends, and he has no interest in holiday celebrations. His neighbor Erica Owens and her son Will are grieving the loss of their family. Her ex-husband’s infidelity led her to divorce him, and she’s trying to create a new life for herself and her son. The thing I love most about Bliss’s writing is that she leads me to believe in her characters. I understood Mike’s guilt, however irrational, and I cried with Erica when she put her son on a plane to spend Christmas with his father and went home and surrendered to the pain of the holiday without her child. Because I cared about these characters, I rejoiced to see the relationship between them develop from reluctant attraction to love. It was a moving, heartwarming story.

My favorite Christmas story this year is not a romance but a cozy mystery. Margaret Maron is my favorite mystery writer. Julia Spencer-Fleming is a very close second, but Maron has the advantage of being Southern. Colleton County, North Carolina, the setting of Maron’s Deborah Knott novels, is just closer to home for me, geographically and emotionally, than is Spencer-Fleming’s New England town. Christmas Mourning is Maron’s sixteenth mystery featuring Deborah Knott, district judge and only daughter in a complicated family of twelve siblings. I read Maron’s books as much for the family dynamics and the love story as for the mystery, and Christmas Mourning gave me exactly what I expected. The mystery reiterates the Faulknerian wisdom that in the South the past is never really past, and the larger story offers another look at the extended Knott family, at Deborah and Dwight about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and at Christmas in Colleton County.

I also loved Emily March’s A Callahan Carol, downloadable free on her website. It has warmth and sentiment, family ties, and an extraordinary angel—some of the ingredients I love to see in a Christmas story--and it has the added benefit of linking the old and beloved, Geralyn Dawson’s Callahans in Brazos Bend, Texas, with the new and anticipated, Emily March’s characters in Eternity Springs, Colorado.

Of course, I’ve been rereading too—Diane Farr’s Once Upon a Christmas; Jo Beverley’s Winter Fire; the stories of Debbie Macomber’s mischievous angels Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy; the first two books of Marilyn Pappano’s Bethlehem series; Mary Jo Putney’s stories in Christmas Revels; Jeanne Savery’s The Christmas Matchmaker; and more by Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, Barbara Metzger, and Edith Layton than I can list.

What are your favorite Christmas stories of 2010? Do you reread old favorites at Christmastime?

Whatever holiday you celebrate, may it be bright with laughter, warm with love, and filled with the people and the books that matter most to you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tis the Season . . . for Book Lists

Tis the season of lists. For the grands, it’s lists for Santa. For me, it’s lists of the year’s top books.

There’s Booklist’s Top 10. I’ve only read half of these. Some of them I’d never even heard of until I saw the list. (The starred titles are the ones I’ve read.)

1. Barely a Lady.* By Eileen Dreyer.
2. The Clouds Roll Away. By Sibella Giorello.
3. Down River. By Karen Harper.
4. Last Night’s Scandal.* By Loretta Chase.
5. The Lone Texan.* By Jodi Thomas. 2009.
6. Secrets of a Scandalous Bride.* By Sophia Nash.
7. Sixteen Brides. By Stephanie Grace Whitson.
8. Steamed. By Katie MacAlister.
9. The Wicked Wyckerly.* By Patricia Rice.
10. Wolf in Tiger’s Stripes. By Victoria Gordon.

Publishers Weekly announced a Top Five. I did much better here. I’ve read three, a fourth is on my TBR shelf, and the fifth is on my TBB list.

1. The Forbidden Rose,* Joanna Bourne
2. The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook
3. The Heir, Grace Burrowes
4. Barely a Lady,* Eileen Dreyer
5. Trial by Desire,* Courtney Milan

Library Journal also has five, and I’ve read four of them.

1. Bourne, Joanna. The Forbidden Rose.*
2. Brockway, Connie. The Golden Season.*
3. Dreyer, Eileen. Barely a Lady.*
4. Kinsale, Laura. Lessons in French.*
5. McDonald, L.J. The Battle Sylph.

The Smart Bitches’ list in Kirkus Reviews is a list after my own heart. It has 21 titles on it, and they range from a book by Nora Roberts, who has been turning out winning books for more than two decades now, to the debut book of  Sarah MacLean. I’ve only read ten from the Kirkus list, but I like the idea of 21 top books. Ten is classic, but five seems rather stingy to me.

1. Last Night’s Scandal* by Loretta Chase
2. Hot Finish by Erin McCarthy
3. The Summer of You* by Kate Noble
4. Something About You* by Julie James
5. Maybe This Time* by Jennifer Crusie
6. Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
7. Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
8. Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
9. His at Night* by Sherry Thomas
10. Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
11. What the Librarian Did* by Karina Bliss
12. Archangel’s Kiss by Nalini Singh
13. Scoundrel by Zoe Archer
14. All I Ever Wanted* by Kristan Higgins
15. Happy Ever After* by Nora Roberts
16. Bayou Moon by Ilona Andrews
17. The Forbidden Rose* by Joanna Bourne
18. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake* by Sarah MacLean
19. Naked Edge by Pamela Clare
20. Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton
21. Seven Nights to Forever by Evangeline Collins

Amazon went for the classic ten, and I’ve read eight of them.

1. Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage* by Jennifer Ashley
2. Burning Lamp (An Arcane Society Novel)* by Amanda Quick
3. Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark, Book 7) by Kresley Cole
4. Sin Undone (Demonica, Book 5) by Larissa Ione
5. Married by Morning (Hathaways, Book 4)* by Lisa Kleypas
6. A Hellion in Her Bed (Hellions of Halstead Hall)* by Sabrina Jeffries
7. Finding Perfect* by Susan Mallery
8. Burning Up* by Susan Andersen
9. The Summer Hideaway (The Lakeshore Chronicles)* by Susan Wiggs
10. Ten Things I Love About You* by Julia Quinn

The big winners are Eileen Dreyer’s Barely a Lady, which appears on the lists of Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose, which appears on the lists of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.

These are just the lists that have garnered the most attention. I’ve lost count of how many lists I’ve read, and I’ve lost count of the time I’ve spent considering my own top romance novels. I gave 31 romance novels an A this year (about 12 percent of those I read), a grade that for me means “This was a great read, and I know I’ll read it again.” I tried to narrow my list of A books to a top ten, but the best I could do was a top twelve. I made my task easier by eliminating all books written by my Vanette pals since I couldn’t choose among them and including them all would have left no room for other books. Some of the following you’ll recognize from other lists. Some of them others have loved less than I do. But that’s ok. This is my list. Maybe I should call it “The Romance Novels I Loved Most in 2010.”

My Top Twelve

(in alphabetical order by title)

1. The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie

I love romances that somehow manage to render the conventions of the genre in a fresh way, romances that move me to laughter and tears, romances that have characters I believe in and root for. TAW has all of these plus a scene inspired by Katie Melua’s “When You Taught Me How to Dance,” a song I love.

2. The Dangerous Viscount by Miranda Neville

I loved the hero makeover, loved the book connection, loved Diana’s quirky family. In fact, I pretty much loved everything about this book. It made Miranda Neville an autobuy author for me.

3. The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

I had sworn off spy books before I read Joanna Bourne’s books. Now as soon as I finish one of her books, I’m impatient for the next one. This one may just be my favorite in the series. It’s a perfect blend of history and romance written in prose that has a glorious simplicity and lucidity.

4. The Irish Warrior by Kris Kennedy

I used to say I never read Medievals, but then I read Kris Kennedy. I think I liked TIW even better than The Conqueror. I found the legend of the dyes fascinating, and the relationship between Finian and Senna was one that had many dimensions. And Finian! Wow, what a hero!

5. A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

A fairy tale with a feminist edge written with the usual intelligence and grace of Eloisa James, a never-fail author for me--how could this one not be on my list? The ending with the heroine’s surprising admission is one of my favorite endings ever.

6. Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase

This was one I both longed to read and feared to do so. I loved Olivia and Peregrine in Lord Perfect, and I wanted their story to fulfill all the promise of the intelligence, intrepidity, and opposition of the young characters and their relationship. It did. Chase once again proved she is a nonpareil.

7. Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly

Carla Kelly’s extraordinary ordinary characters are unique in romance fiction. Polly Brandon and Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Philippe d'Anvers Junot join a long list of unforgettable Kelly heroines and heroes whose love stories are shown developing amid the horrors and the wonders of life lived by people never found in the ballrooms and clubs of the Ton.

8. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Charming is the best word I can think of to describe this short romance that gives the familiar tale of marriage between the progeny of a cit and an aristocrat the most delightful twist imaginable. Reginald, the son of a coal merchant, Annabelle, the daughter of an earl, are endearing characters. Remembering their story makes me smile—and sigh.

9. Money Honey by Susan Sey

This book has a suspense plot, but it felt like a straight contemporary to me. The focus is definitely on the romance--and it's a terrific romance. Liz and Patrick have history, chemistry, and substance. And I can’t express my delight that they have a real relationship, not just lusty romps.

10. The Redemption of Tyler O’Neill by Molly O’Keefe

I chose the second book in the series, because while I loved them all, I loved one a bit more than the others. But the books in this trilogy (The Temptation of Savannah O’Neill and The Scandal and Carter O’Neill are the others) are like three acts in a single play that reveals the stories of a troubled family. O’Keefe demonstrates wonderfully just how complex and compelling a story a gifted writer can tell within category limits.

11. Something about You by Julie James

I’ve been a Julie James fan since I read her first book, but this one is my favorite. Cameron and Jack are whole characters. They have lives—jobs, friendships, backgrounds, and a history with one another that credibly complicates their relationship. And sexual tension? Whee! Julie James could write a book on what I feared was becoming a lost art.

12. What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss

I read this story of an arrogant rock star who wears purple boots and a librarian who wears vintage clothing in one gulp and then went back and reread it. It was a delight to read, but this is not to say that it is froth. The story has significance; it also has one scene that makes my list of all-time funniest scenes. It set me on the biggest glom I’ve been on in years.

What do you think about best-of book lists? How many have you read on this years' big lists? Will an apperance on the list persuade you to try a book? What were your top romances of 2010?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

After Christmas Treats: Coming to a Bookstore Near You

December 28 has long been marked on my book calendar as one of those terrific, tantalizing Tuesdays that promise a bounty of books that I’m longing to read. I’ve already read three (all A reads for me), and I am eagerly awaiting the others.

Toni Blake--Whisper Falls (Destiny, Book 3--Avon)

Nobody is better than Toni Blake at giving a reader engaging characters in a story that is both sizzling and sweet. She does it again in Whisper Falls, the third book in her series set in small-town Ohio. If you’re as weary as I am of heroines (and heroes) whose loves are blighted beyond recovery because some past love betrayed them, you will probably find heroine Tessa Sheridan as refreshing as I did. She is battling Crohn’s disease, and it’s a tough fight. Tessa felt real to me. Chronic illness has had both physical and emotional costs, but she’s determined to enjoy life. She’s also an interesting combination of caution and risk-taking.

Lucky is a dark, dangerous biker bad boy, the kind your mother always warned you about but you kept sneaking looks and having fantasies ‘cause he was so-o-o sexy. And he is all these things, and  much more. He’s a guy who made some bad choices, but he’s trying to right old wrongs and make choices now that are best for all concerned. He’s a Romo (brother to Mike, whom you’ll know if you read Book 2), and he has family issues that have to be resolved. He also has a past, and we romance readers know that the past is rarely fully past.

I like my romances with rich contexts, and Blake provides plenty of that. I especially liked the way characters from the earlier books were woven into this one. Their presence had purpose in the story. I never got the feeling they were making cameo appearances to satisfy the series addicts (like me). This book stands on its own quite well. Readers new to the series or to Blake should have no problems with it.

Whisper Falls was another TB winner for me. I'm already wondering what’s happening in Destiny next.

Robyn Carr--Promise Canyon (Virgin River, Book 11--Mira)

I’m always happy to visit Virgin River. It’s filled with interesting people. Clay Tahoma and Lilly Yazhi are terrific additions to the community. Clay has just arrived in Virgin River, and he’s looking to settle down and build a life here. He’s also trying to cut some troublesome ties with his immediate past. Lilly has a past too, one that has taught her to be wary of strong, sexy Native American males. She’s the only one in Virgin River not delighted to have Clay join the community.

I really liked these characters. Their different responses to their cultural heritage seemed genuine to me. One of the things I liked best was that Lilly reconnects to parts of who she is because of her relationship with Clay. The scene where she meets his mother left me teary-eyed. In fact, I loved the family connections in this book—the fierce but imperfect love between Lilly and her grandfather and Clay’s extraordinary history with his son and his close ties with his sister and her family.

Clay and Lilly are good together too. Lilly may be guilty of stereotyping (a certain irony there) when she first meets Clay, but she has good reason for her reservations. The mistake Clay makes with Lilly seemed in character to me, and his propensity to delay the difficult reminded me of some men I’ve known. And Robyn Carr could give lessons in how to make a hero admit he’s wrong and how to atone for his errors.

I’ve read all the Virgin River books, and I have enjoyed them, some more than others. I’d rank this one very close to the first three, which continue to be my favorites.

Note: The count for the series says Promise Canyon is Book 11, but if you include the two novellas, it’s really story #13. I admit I made a chart, so I can keep track of all the character connections in the series. For any of you who are as obsessive as I am with keeping track of such details, the story of Clay’s friend and employer, veterinarian Nate Jensen, and his fiancĂ©e, Annie McCarty, can be found in “Under the Christmas Tree,” a novella in That Holiday Feeling (2009).

Laura Lee Guhrke--Wedding of the Season (Abandoned at the Altar, Book 1--Avon)

This is the first book in a new trilogy from Laura Lee Guhrke, and if they are all three as good as the first one, this series should rival Guhrke’s Bachelor Girl series in popularity. I should start by saying that I had three reasons for a predisposition to like Wedding of the Season before I read the first line: (1) It’s written by an author whose books routinely earn keeper status from me; (2) it’s set in the Edwardian period, a time I think we see too little of in romance fiction; (3) it’s a reunion story, my favorite theme. Sometimes having high expectations of a book can lead to a proportional disappointment. That was definitely not the case with WOTS.

Beatrix and Will are a couple with a history. Six years ago, each of them makes a choice that puts a period to their long relationship. She’s engaged again and looking forward to a wedding that will take place--and then Will reappears. The opening scene is marvelous. It sets up the tension between the H/H beautifully, plus it gave me the same feeling I get from the opening scene of my favorite romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s.

The plot is fairly predictable. There’s the heroine with a grievance, the hero with a purpose, the proper new love, and a set of circumstances that force the H/H into one another’s company with the expected result of reunion and HEA. What sets Guhrke book apart from hundreds of other books with the same plot is the skill with which she creates characters with whom the reader falls in love. Beatrix’s determination to have the life she believes she must have and her reluctance to take risks may be maddening to some readers, but she had my sympathy from the beginning. I thought the roadster worked masterfully to show that there is more to Beatrix than even she understands at this point. Will is a great hero, but he's not faultless. His interest in the Egyptian excavation is consuming. Their flaws make these characters interesting, credible, and endearing.

I can’t praise the setting highly enough. Not only is it refreshingly different from the usual Georgian/Regency fare, but it is tied directly to action and character in this novel. The opulent lifestyles of the privileged, the technological advances, the shifting social roles—all these things are part of WOTS. They are part of who these characters are. Wedding of the Season is not only a fun read with a wholly satisfying romance; it’s also an intelligent book. I love that!

December 28 releases I haven’t read but that are on my To-Be-Bought list are:

I've been waiting for Lady Most Likely for ages. Three favorites in one book--how often does that happen? In Too Deep introduces a new series, but it's still an Arcane Society book--and I'm hooked. Mistress by Midnight is the second book in the Courtesans Court series. I think that court was a brilliant idea, and I can't wait to read another book by my friend Maggie.
(Rose Lerner’s second book, A Lily Among Thorns, was on my list for December 28, but according to her website, the release date has been changed to March 2011 for the ebook, June 2011 for the pb. I had wondered how the changes at Dorchester would affect this book. I’m glad it’s just a delay in release.)
Note: I received free ecopies of Whisper Falls, Promise Canyon, and Wedding of the Season from the publishers through NetGalley, but my reviews were unaffected by their generosity. As evidence, I offer the information that I'll use my own $$ to buy copies of all three along with the other books on my list on December 28.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Little Something

I’ve been writing 14-18 hours a day, trying to make my December 1 deadline on a series of articles. I missed it. :( It looks as if I’ll be in the deadline dungeon another couple of days. I’ll be back next week with a new post. For now, I hope you enjoy this short, short Christmas story. It’s one I wrote for the 2008 Christmas anthology on the EJ/JQ bulletin board.


A Gift from Santa

“Marissa Carlington, did you hear a word I said? Be sure to tell your mama that Sam Sullivan had a heart attack, and I’ll be calling her about taking dinner to the Sullivans tomorrow. Gina will have enough on her mind without worrying about Christmas dinner.”

Mr. Sam? Is he— Marissa could not bring herself to finish the question. She had thought until six weeks ago that Sam and Gina Sullivan would be her in-laws.

“It was a mild one, but Gina won’t leave him even so. Don’t forget to tell your mama.” Gladys bustled away, looking for more Women’s Society members to enlist in her dinner project.

The hush in the hall meant that Santa was due. Santa? Oh no, Mr. Sam was always Santa, enjoying himself hugely and keeping everyone laughing with his quips. Who—but there he was, a tall Santa with a rich laugh. Brady, of course. A bit on the slim side for the traditional image, but the children clustering around him were not bothered. The stars in their eyes were brighter than the one on the tree.

Funny, she could remember the look on his face when she had stormed out, but she couldn’t remember what their fight was about. She didn’t even remember how it started, just that it was one of those escalating arguments that ended with her throwing the ring at him and his accusing her of expecting too much.

“Youngest first, youngest first,” Pastor Don cautioned. Marissa grinned, watching her sister Amy forcibly removed Ryan, a boisterous six-year-old, from the front of the line while trying to comfort a shrieking Carli.

“Can I help?” She hardly had the words out before Amy was shoving Carli at her and turning to recapture the elusive Ryan.

“Here, my dear,” Pastor Don with a firm hand steered Marisa to the front of the line.

Marissa didn’t have time to panic. One minute she was coaxing Carli to look at Santa, the next she and the toddler were perched on Santa’s knee. In the way of the very young, Carli took an unexpected fancy to the man in red. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” she chortled, launching herself against Santa’s chest. He caught her easily, joining her in a duet of “Ho, Ho Hoes” before handing her back to Marissa.

Marissa was overly conscious of his left arm curved around her waist.

“Have you been a good girl?” Was the question for her or for Carli, Marissa wondered.

“Baby!” Carli announced as Santa pulled a doll from his pack.

He pushed another, wrapped package into Marissa’s hand and gave Carli a quick kiss.

Amy rushed over to take Carli, chattering madly. Marissa didn’t hear a word. She was conscious only of the present from Santa. Her hands trembled as she pulled away the wrapping and opened a small box. It was another box, a tiny silver one. Inside was an even smaller piece of paper that read “I only want you for Christmas.”

“Marissa, where are you going?” Amy called.

Marissa smiled over her shoulder. “Tell Santa that I’ve gone to find a ribbon for his Christmas gift.

Have you ever written a Christmas story? What’s your favorite Christmas story to reread?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you have a
blessed Thanksgiving Day
filled with
good food, good memories, and
good times with people you love.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Best “Other Books” of 2010

It’s that time of year when blogs and boards and publications begin to post their top books of 2010.  For the past several years, I’ve posted my top ten romance novels, and I’ll do so again soon. But I haven’t yet narrowed my list to ten. However, I do have a list of ten books in other genres that I have read and loved this year. Most of them are 2010 publications. A few were published in 2009, but I read them in 2010. So, in alphabetical order by author, here are my top ten “other books” of the year.

1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
(Mystery, Delacorte, April 2009)
I came late to the reading of this book. Although I read a lot of mysteries, an eleven-year-old protagonist repeatedly described by those who had read the book as “precocious” didn’t sound like my kind of book at all. I was wrong. I loved Flavia, who is indeed precocious, but also funny, brave, and completely engaging. She has an interesting mind and, despite her toughness, a real vulnerability. How realistic is it that a pre-teen in 1950s England would have her own poison laboratory, be smart enough to outmaneuver her older sisters and a company of adults, and solve the mystery with skills that have more in common with Miss Marple than with Nancy Drew? Not very. But Bradley makes me believe for the duration of the book and leaves me eager for more adventures of Flavia de Luce. Book 2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, is on my TBR shelf now.

2. The Goddess of Fried Okra by Jean Brashear

(Women’s Fiction, Belle Bridge, March 2010)

I reviewed TGOFO here in early April. You can check the link for a full review. For this blog, I’ll limit myself to praising the book’s protagonist, Eudora "Pea" O'Brien, who moved me to laughter, tears and left me with the feeling that I’d found a friend. Her journey is one of the most original and satisfying female quest tales that I’ve read. When you add these qualities to a sterling cast of secondary characters, endearing eccentrics, who are interesting and memorable and a sense of place as rich as the best of Southern fiction, you’ll see why this book is on my list of the best.

3. The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart by Deborah Digges
(Poetry, Knopf, May 2010)

This posthumously published collection, the fourth by Digges, sounds in the ear with a storyteller’s rhythm and resounds in the heart with a sparseness as deep as grief and a simplicity as powerful as love. The title poem introduces the volume, and it is not only thematic but also the best poem in a strong collection. Reading the poems, I was reminded of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but the tenderness and terror are uniquely Digges’s. Read the opening lines, read them aloud so that eyes and ears and being experience them. Then I think you’ll understand why I love this book.

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.

4. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

(Young Adult, Dutton Juvenile, April 2009)

I’ve read YA books since I was a pre-teen, and I continue to find some of the best and bravest books I read in this genre. Forman’s If I Stay reminded me a bit of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. One moment Mia is a seventeen-year-old cellist who expects to attend Julliard. She has a mother, a father, and a younger brother and a boyfriend who plays in a band. The next moment there are two Mias: one near death, a victim of an automobile accident in which her parents were killed and the other the consciousness of Mia who sees her own mangled body and later doctors working to save her. This second Mia watches as family and friends visit her, and she is confronted with a decision. Her life has been devastated by the accident. It will never be what it was before. Is such a life worth fighting for? Should she go or should she stay? This is not a comfortable book. (Many of the best YA novels are not comfortable reading.) It is heartbreaking, but it is also powerful and important

5. The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson

(Historical Fiction, Avon, September 2010)

This is another book I reviewed, this time quite recently for The Romance Dish. It is a blend of history, adventure, mystery, and romance—and Will Shakespeare himself is a character, writing The Tempest on the island that inspired it. I loved all the parts of this book: the 1660s setting, the real history with its politics and religious conflicts, the Renaissance Survivors (much better than any 21st-century reality show) the love story between the protagonist Elizabeth and the ship’s cook, and the friendship that grows between Elizabeth and Will.

6. A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

(Mystery, Minotaur, August 2009)

Any list of favorite books that I construct probably signals clearly that the books I love best are character-driven. This debut novel introduced me to a character I adore and look forward to reading more of. We would never encounter Stella Hardesty in a romance novel. She is plump, plain, and past the 40s hill. After thirty years as an abused wife, she administered justice to her abuser with a wrench. No one is more surprised than Stella when she becomes the champion of other abused women, using her own brand of persuasion to convince the abusers to see the error of their ways. The issues at the heart of this mystery—domestic abuse, child endangerment, societal views of justice, acceptable heroines—are all serious concerns, but the serious is balanced by the comedic. I’ll just say I doubt that anyone has ever used erotic bondage equipment as Stella does. And she even gets a love interest. Littlefield has already published another Stella book with two more set for the future. I plan to read them all.

7. The Secret of Everything by Barbara O’Neal

(Women’s Fiction, Bantam, December 2009)

Barbara O’Neal (Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind) is a writer who leaves me raving about the emotional punch of whatever she writes. The Secret of Everything joins a long list of favorites by this writer. Tessa Harlow, a travel guide, is left injured in body and spirit by a tragic accident. Against her father’s advice, still recovering from her injuries, she sets out for Los Ladronas, New Mexico, to check it out as a tour site and to uncover secrets of her own past. She meets Vince Grasso, a search and rescue worker who is widowed with three young daughters. Tessa and Vince strike sparks, but she is wary of commitment. The problem with a summary is that it makes the novel sound pedestrian when it is anything but. The summary gives no hint of O’Neal’s evocation of New Mexico in descriptions so powerful that the reader feels as if she’s been there and can’t wait to return. It leaves out the details that leave the reader hungry for food from Vita Solano’s restaurant, 100 Breakfasts, and omits details of the heart-stealing dog and kids. In fact, Vince’s oldest daughter, Natalie, is unforgettable, one of my favorite kid characters ever, and a big reason why TSOE is on this list

8. The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott

(Historical Fiction, NAL, September 2010)

The third and final of the books on the list that I reviewed, The Countess and the King is another of Scott’s books that brings to life in full dimensions a woman who has been relegated to the footnotes and anecdotes of Restoration history. Katherine Sedley was not yet ten when she was separated from her mother and entered the debauched world of her father and his “Merry Gang.” Scott shows the choices Katherine makes and her motives for making them, and she makes the courtesan who became a countess a vital and unforgettable part of a fascinating period.

9. Hold Up the Sky by Patricia Sprinkle

(Women’s Fiction, NAL, March 2010)

Patricia Sprinkle has been one of my favorite mystery writers since I started reading her Sheila Travis books more than fifteen years ago. I’m a big fan of MacLaren Yarbrough and Sprinkle’s Thoroughly Southern Mysteries as well, and I enjoyed her Job’s Corner Chronicles duet, but Hold Up the Sky is now my favorite Sprinkle book. Redemption and reconciliation are my favorite themes, and they are layered in this book about four women. Margaret Baxter’s perfect life is unraveling: her husband is divorcing her, her dream house is being sold, and her oldest son has turned into a troubled teen. She goes home to the family farm in appropriately named  Solace, Georgia, hiding the truths of her life from her father and sister. Her sister, Billie Waits, is terrified that she will no longer be able to support her disabled daughter because her ex-husband has stopped sending child support. Mamie, the housekeeper who helped bring up the sisters, is dying of congestive heart failure, a secret she guards jealously. The lives of these three women become entangled with that of Emerita, a Mexican immigrant with her own secrets, who is stranded near the farm. The four women must learn to forgive, to trust, and to love enough to share their truths and embrace their differences. When they learn these lessons, they discover strength and grace for all that life hands them. This is an inspirational that inspires without sermonizing, one that features characters who struggle and stumble and never have all the answers. There’s even a love scene. :)

10. The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood,
Renata Liwska (Illustrator)

(Children, Houghton Mifflin, April 2010)

The audience for The Quiet Book is children ages four through eight, but this just may be my favorite book of the year. It’s a perfect bedtime book for little ones, but Underwood’s examples of quiet provide food for thought for the parent or other adult reading the book. The book begins with the quiet of being the first one awake and ends with the quiet of sound sleep. In between are funny, unexpected, emotional kinds of quiet like “swimming under the water quiet,” “hide-and-seek quiet,” “thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet,” “jelly side down quiet,” “best friends don’t need to talk quiet,” “bedtime kiss quiet,” and others just as wonderful. Liwska’s illustrations are the perfect complement to the text. Softly colored animals, including a bear, a porcupine, an owl, and a  rabbit show the kinds of quiet. Underwood and Liwska are co-creators of an April 2011 companion book, The Loud Book. It’s already on my book calendar.

Have you read any of my favorite "other books? What non-romance books have you read this year that you rate five-star reads?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Other Moments to Remember

I'm fathoms deep in research and writing this week, so I'm recycling one of my favorite posts from my Romance Vagabond days. My number one moment makes this a particularly appropriate post for Veterans Day. Read Jo Beverley's words and remember.

Usually when we talk about “moments to remember” in terms of romance novels, we are referring to scenes featuring the hero and heroine. After all, they are the novel’s raison d’entre. But lately I have been thinking about other moments to remember, scenes in particular novels that are not part of the love story itself but are memorable for the laughter or the tears they provoke, for the sense of identification they offer, or for the way they perfectly capture a character. Often these moments, rather than the love scenes, are the ones that linger in my mind once I return the book to the shelf.

Here are my top ten such moments.

10. Gigi’s entrance into New York society (Private Arrangements, Sherry Thomas)

I don’t often cheer out loud when reading a work of fiction, but I admit I gave a loud “Hurrah!” when Gigi showed up at Cam’s party. Her grand entrance was perfectly in keeping with her character. I loved it—so much that I wanted to throw rotten tomatoes at those who were so lacking in insight as to find the ending “weak.”

9. All of Olivia and Peregrine’s exchanges (Lord Perfect, Loretta Chase)

I like children in romance novels when they are well-drawn characters who have some purpose in the story. These two are essential to the plot, and in their interactions with Bathsheba and Benedict, they reveal important traits of the heroine and hero. They are also delightful in their own right and wonderful foils for each other. I am definitely among the fans who hope Chase will write their story one day. [And she did! It's wonderful! Have you read Last Night's Scandal?]

8. Jack’s birth control talk with Ricky (Virgin River, Robyn Carr)

This is one of those scenes that moved me to laughter and left me misty-eyed. It seemed so real and honest. Anyone who has ever seen a teenager that he/she loves and feels some responsibility towards fall headlong into love understands Jack’s sense of panic. I suspect many can also relate to his admission to Ricky that he both hopes the young man will use the condoms he’s giving him and will not have to use them.

7. The pretenders meeting with Belcraven (An Unwilling Bride, Jo Beverley)

Just thinking about this scene makes me laugh out loud, even though generally I am a fan of subtle rather than broad humor. Beth, Blanche, Lucien, Miles, and King Rogue Nicholas have succeeded in planting a fake will in Deveril’s house and are on their way home when they meet up, as planned, with Hal and Francis. The latter two are in conversation with Lord Liverpool and the Duke of Belcraven, definitely not part of the plan. Liverpool’s scandalized response, Beth’s saucy exchange with Belcraven, Belcraven’s unspoken conclusion that Nicholas is the mastermind behind the scheme—all of it is just such delicious comedy.

6. Wulf’s dive into the lake (Slightly Dangerous, Mary Balogh)

Wulf is one of those cool, self-contained, always-in-control characters. I can’t express how delighted I was to see him spontaneously shuck most of his clothing and dive into the same lake where he had once frolicked before the burden of a dukedom was forced upon him. I also loved it when the arrogant Freja responded to Wulf’s dive by hugging Christine and saying, “If this is what you have done for him . . . I will love you all my life.”

5. Lucius’s giving Josie a handkerchief (Pleasure for Pleasure, Eloisa James)

Poor Josie! She’s having such a miserable season, and her conclusion that there will never be any one to do for her the kind of thoughtful things Lucius does for Tess was a poignant bit. Then one sentence is added that just so flawlessly sums up the reason Lucius is one of my favorite heroes: “In the end, Lucius Felton had two handkerchiefs, which was just like him.”

4. Danny and Quinn singing at Krissa and Quinn’s wedding (Till the Stars Fall, Kathleen Gilles Seidel)

Reunion stories are my favorites, and TTSF is among the very best of such stories. Not only are Krissa and Quinn reunited after many years, but Danny and Quinn, former best friends and the two halves of Dodd Hall (a famous rock group) are also reconciled. After Quinn and Krissa are pronounced husband and wife, Quinn and Danny sing “Cinnamon Starlight,” the first song Quinn wrote for Krissa and one of Dodd hall’s hits, “in a performance unrecorded and never again to be repeated.” A lovely moment!

3. Darcy and Brenna’s sleepover at Jude’s cottage (Jewels of the Sun, Nora Roberts)

Her ability to capture women’s friendships so accurately is one of the reasons that I have been a Nora Roberts fan for more than twenty years. Any woman who has enjoyed a night of girl talk that ranges from fashion to sex to ghosts, protoplasmic and/or metaphoric, will connect to this scene where Darcy and Brenna show Jude what life is like with girlfriends. We share Jude’s conclusion: “It had been wonderful—the talk, the laughter, the foolishness.”

2. The ballroom scene (Gallant Waif, Anne Gracie)

Kate Farleigh is quite simply one of my favorite heroines ever. “Gallant” is the word for her. She has suffered beyond imagination, and yet she remains courageous, generous, and large-hearted. In the ballroom scene, vicious scandal mongers are attacking her once again. But this time she is not alone. Jack Carstairs, the hero, is there, but so also are many of the young soldiers that Kate once nursed. They and their relatives lend their support, but the crowning moment comes when Wellington appears and strolls with Kate around the ballroom, praising her gallantry to all they meet. Ballroom scenes are plentiful in historical romance, but this is the one that comes to my mind when I think of such scenes.

1. Nicholas’s toast (An Unwilling Bride, Jo Beverley)

The Rogues have just read the lists of Waterloo casualties and learned that the name of Lord Darius Debenham (Dare) is on the list of the fallen. The Rogues have already lost two of their number Lord Roger Merrihew died in Spain and Allan Ingram died at sea. With Dare’s death, there are nine Rogues left, and some of them are still in danger. Beverley makes the grief over Dare so real that the reader can see the somber faces and tense muscles. And Nicholas makes a toast. I cry easily, but these lines move me too deeply for tears. They touch an old wound, and I am broken anew each time I read them. Unfortunately, they are no less appropriate in 2008 [and 2010] than they were in 1815, the time of the novel.

“To all the fallen, may they be forever young in heaven. To all the wounded, may they have strength and heal. To all the bereaved, may they feel joy again. And please God . . . may there be one day an end to war.”

What non-romantic moments from romance novels do you remember most vividly?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making Choices

I recently signed up for NaNoWriMo for the second year, determined to reach the goal of 50,000 words by November 30. I knew it would be a challenge.
A holiday month is not a good time for me to try to wrest more writing time from a packed schedule. Last year I tried and failed. Whatever the NaNo pep-talkers say about no failures, I believed I had failed. Writing 30K words was just over halfway to my goal; that’s failing in my book. It’s the equivalent of making 60 on an exam, a result that would have filled me with shame. Every time I’ve thought about NaNo since November 30, 2009, I’ve felt as if a neon sign were flashing over my head, proclaiming me a loser.

But I determined that this year was going to be different. I started really well—1975 words for November 1. The second day was less successful. I wrote only 1000 words, but I reasoned I could make up the 700 or so words I needed to stay on target later in the week. Then yesterday I wrote zilch—not one word, and I have no regrets. Things happened, and I had to make some choices.

First, I was offered the opportunity to write fifteen articles (15,000 words) for an encyclopedia. It’s an interesting project, and it will add to the coffers just in time for finishing my Christmas shopping. The only problem is that the deadline is December 1. Researching and writing will take huge chunks of time and make that NaNo goal even more elusive. Still, I concluded, if I made do with less sleep, I might still make both deadlines. I signed the contract.

Wednesday morning, I had just started working on my library list for the research project when my phone rang. It was my BFF. She said, “We never did get together to cook those ribs, let’s meet at Appleby’s for lunch. Their ribs aren’t as good as mine, but they’re not bad.” I could have said no. I had good reason to suggest we delay lunch until another day. But the BFF and I go way back, all the way back to two four-year-olds looking covetously at the tambourines that were reserved for the elite, the smartest, the best people-pleasers among the five-year-old girls in the kindergarten rhythm band. We were relegated to the lowly rhythm sticks section of the band that year, but we shared our dream of one day playing the tambourine. Lo and behold, the next year we were among the chosen, elated to be shaking and jingling those small, circular drums with all our might. We’ve been sharing dreams and experiences for more than half a century since our tambourine days, long enough for me to know that the lunch invitation was about more than ribs.

Our lunch became a three-hour talk fest. It was definitely a cabbages-and-kings time. You remember the lines from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

We skipped the ships and sealing wax, but we did talk of shoes, cabbages, kings of our hearts, and metaphoric seas and pigs. We also talked about parents, grands, cousins, former classmates, books read since our last lunch, and Christmas parties. Sometimes friends just need a long, leisurely conversation to share news and concerns and hopes. My BFF and I hadn’t had one in three months, and she knew we needed to reconnect.

Today I’m late with this blog, behind with my list of research tomes, and wavering on NaNo because I made a choice yesterday. That choice carried consequences, as all choices do. But I’m convinced that I made the right choice. The blog will get posted, the research list will be completed before I go to the library tomorrow, and I’ll write as much as I can on my NaNo novel tonight. All of these tasks will go more smoothly because I’m happier and more optimistic than I was before I abandoned my to-do list for time with a forever friend. The ribs weren’t bad either.

Are you NaNoing this year? Do you second-guess your choices? Have you ever shirked a responsibility for something others might deem “just fun,” but which you knew was important?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Are You Doing Halloween?

Surely it's not too much for me to ask
What seasonal costume you plan--and what mask.
What are you doing this year

(with apologies to Frank Loesser and the more than 30 artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Rufus Wainwright who have covered his song “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”) Frank

My family is celebrating Halloween a day early. I’ll be spending Saturday with most of my family. Saturday afternoon will find us gathered around a big screen TV watching the Georgia-Florida game. We’re a lot more optimistic about the Dawgs than we were at the beginning of the season, and you can be sure than it will be a noisy few hours with lots of cautions from the great room language referees when the game doesn’t go the way the men in our family want it to.

Saturday night is for the kids. We’ll have a Cleopatra, an Iron Man, a Luke Skywalker, a couple of Bakugan Dragonoids, a cowboy, and a Tinkerbelle among the Trick or Treaters. My #1 nephew and his wife are going all out this year with a fog machine and talking ghosts. Their home will be our observation post to watch the reactions of the Grands and other costumed tweens and toddlers, as we nibble on brain dip (pink shrimp dip) and goblin cupcakes.

As always, I hope to be reading. If I can find a few hours between now and Sunday night, I’ll choose from among some thematically appropriate romance novels. Halloween books are far rarer on my shelves that Valentine and Christmas books, but there are a few. Sandra Heath has three traditional Regencies that are clearly Halloween books: two fun reads, The Halloween Husband (1994) with a matchmaking ghost and The Magic Jack o’ Lantern (1999) with a mischievous, invisible brownie, and a darker one, Halloween Magic (1996), in which a Halloween thunderstorm releases a Tudor witch 200 years after her death to seek revenge on the descendants of those who caused her death. It pits the ancient magic and evil purposes of the seductive witch against the goodness and innocence of the heroine.
A more recent addition to Halloween romances is Hallowe’en Husbands, an anthology with novellas by Lisa Plumley, Denise Lynn, and Christine Merrill. I particularly like Merrill’s Gothic romance, “Master of Penlowen.”  Vicki Lewis Thompson’s 2010 Babes on Brooms books are great fun. In the first, Blonde with a Wand, the heroine turns the hero into a cat. Oops! And in Chick with a Charm, the witchy, bar-tending heroine slips a love potion into the hero’s drink. Of course, if we count witch books as Halloween books, we can’t forget Nora Roberts’s Three Sisters Island trilogy: Dance Upon the Air, Heaven and Earth, and Face the Fire.


I reread Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones, not exactly a romance but a YA fantasy, every time I have an excuse to do so, and Halloween is a good excuse. I love the story of Sophie, the eldest of three sisters who is turned into an old crone by the Witch of the Waste. She becomes the housekeeper of the infamous Howl and eventually they save each other and the kingdom. I might also watch the 2004 Miyazaki movie; it’s almost as good as the book.

So what are you doing Halloween? And do you have any Halloween reads to recommend?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Covering the Covers

Kanye West is making waves again. The cover of his upcoming album My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy has his label pushing for a different cover since Wal-Mart has indicated they are unwilling to sell the sexually graphic current cover in their stores. The controversy prompted Billboard to feature "20 Banned Album Covers" this week. I was interested to see that in most cases the new cover was just a covering up of parts of the original. One famous example of that is the nude shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono covered with brown paper. Viewing the slide show of the banned album covers made me think of book covers.  It wasn’t much of a jump because several things had worked together to put book covers on
my mind.

First, I recently looked at a couple of collections of book covers. Abe Books posted an exhibit of 25 Iconic Book Covers in their online Rare Book Room. Looking at those covers, I realized that about half of them were so distinctive and so familiar that I would have known the books even if the titles had been omitted from the covers. I have only to look at my own bookshelves to see some of these, such as The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. I also viewed another collection of covers. AIGA, the professional association for design, selected 100 examples of outstanding book and book cover design produced in 2009. Most of these books I’d never heard of, and only one, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn, had I read. Frankly, it was only one of a handful that I would have found interesting enough to stop and check the book in a bookstore or library.

The third item that has me focused on book covers is that a few weeks ago I bought a supply of stretchy fabric book covers to hide the covers of my romance novels. I bought mine locally, but they are readily available. The one pictured is from Hide-a-Book on Etsy. I have never been a fan of clinch covers, but hiding the covers always seemed like surrendering to the critics of romance fiction. I had one cover I used for my purse book, whatever it happened to be at any given time, since I pulled it out everywhere from a jury room to a church committee meeting. But lately the questions about my romance covers from the Grands have persuaded me that the time has come to cover the covers.

When I first started reading my mother’s romance novels, the covers might have been dismissed by critics as silly and trite, but they didn’t need to be hidden from the eyes of children. I thought the covers were wonderfully romantic. Clinches, when they existed were strictly G rated. What I remember are the beautiful people and the glamorous settings. I was not a fan of the bodice rippers of the 1970s, although the covers of the two most influential, which I did read, were certainly inoffensive. The books I was reading during that period were Gothic romances, Clare Darcy’s Regencies, and categories by writers such as Essie Summers, Mary Burchell, and Sara Seale. The covers of the subgenres were distinctive from one another, but none of them would have embarrassed their readers.


When I think of what some have called the Golden Age of romance fiction, the 1980s, I think of the writers I was discovering during that time, writers like Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Nora Roberts, and Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Most of their books from that time are still on my keeper shelves, and while some may be labeled “clinch covers,” none makes me want to hide it from view. Even the cover of Seidel’s All Through the Years, the sexiest of the covers in this sample, seems mild to eyes accustomed to 21st-century covers.


Was it in the 90s that the shift began? I’m not sure. This is a rambling recollection of my experience with romance covers, not an academic study. I do know that it’s easy to see the forerunners of today’s sizzling covers in Loretta Chase’s acclaimed Lord of Scoundrels and in Lisa Kleypas’s popular Then Came You. On the other hand, some books that definitely merited the “Hot” warning such as Christina Dodd’s A Well-Pleasured Lady and Judith Ivory’s Sleeping Beauty have quite subtle covers, the kind I can still leave on a table or chair, careless of who may see them. 

That pattern can be seen in recent covers as well. Two of the books that prompted the Grands’s questions were Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl and Anne Mallory’s Seven Secrets of Seduction. Yet Toni Blake’s Sugar Creek, which has a higher sensuality level than the Long and the Mallory books, has a cover that I feel no need to hide.


Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating banning covers. Since they are so ubiquitous, I will concede that many readers must like the clinch covers and the experts insist they sell. Borders romance buyer Sue Grimshaw was quoted in a 2008 Publishers Weekly article saying, “A tastefully done clinch is a must-have for debut authors.” And in that same article, Carrie Ferron declared, “We're pro-clinch at Avon.” So I’m in a minority here not banning, just covering romance covers—some of them—and thinking nostalgically of the day when I could just leave my romances uncovered for all eyes to see and dream of a day when the covers of romance novel will be both distinctive and appealing to readers.

How do you vote on clinch covers—yea or nay? Have you ever used book covers on romance novels? What kind of covers do you prefer on the books you read?