Friday, July 29, 2011

Significant Seven in Romance Fiction

In 2009, the then-current U. K. Children’s Laureate and four of his predecessors were invited to name their selections for the top seven children’s books. Somewhat surprisingly they chose not one Harry Potter title but rather honored thirty books (out of thirty-five total) that are more than twenty years old. The oldest among them such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have long passed the century mark. Some people expressed surprise over Rowling’s absence from the lists; others praised the laureates for choosing “timeless greats.”  Since the purpose of the lists was to inspire children to read books they might have missed, I think including Harry Potter could be considered redundant. Who could miss Harry Potter?
As readers and writers of romance fiction, we can qualify as experts of varying degrees, and I am certain we all have ideas about the seven romance novels all  romance readers should read that they might have missed.  So today I name you all official romance fiction laureates and solicit your list of seven titles. Your list may be different from your seven favorite books because you are naming books not just on the basis of personal taste but you are also choosing those most likely to have wide appeal and to represent the genre well.
 My seven are all on my keeper shelves, but they are not my seven favorite books.
  1. Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen (because it is a literary classic and a perennial romance favorite—and it’s written by Jane)
  2. The Grand Sophy (1950), Georgette Heyer (because it features the prototypical smart, take-charge heroine )
  3. The Dedicated Villain (1989), Patricia Veryan (because it contains the best reformed villain ever)
  4. Lord of Scoundrels (1995), Loretta Chase (because it’s a funny, poignant Beauty and the Beast tale with some of the best banter ever to grace the pages of a romance novel)
  5. Flowers from the Storm (1992), Laura Kinsale (because it is one of the most challenging and emotionally intense novels, regardless of genre)
  6. A Soldier’s Heart (1994), Kathleen Korbel (because it powerfully demonstrates that category romances can be distinctive, complex, and unforgettable)
  7. Sea Swept (1998), Nora Roberts (because it shows romance heroes can be just guys--it’s written by Nora)
 And I just noted that five of my seven were published within a ten year period. I’m not sure what that means.
 So what seven novels make up your significant seven in romance fiction?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Review: Miss Lacey's Last Fling

Miss Lacey’s Last Fling
By Candice Hern
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: February 6, 2001
Newly available as ebook

In late March, I posted the news that Candice Hern’s traditional Regencies were newly available, and since then I have reread most of them. And while I’m happy to add all of them to my growing ebook collection, my favorite among them remains the same. I loved Miss Lacey’s Last Fling when I first read it a decade ago, and I loved it no less with my most recent rereading.

Since Rosalind Lacey’s mother died twelve years ago, Rosalind has been the mainstay of her family, assuming her mother’s role in running the house and in caring for her five younger siblings. Her family takes for granted all that Rosie does for them, and they are all astounded when she announces that she is going to London.  They can’t imagine why shy, plain Rosie, who at 26 is firmly on the shelf, wants to leave Wycombe Hall. Even more surprising is that rather than accepting the staid chaperone who saw her younger sisters through their seasons, Rosie insists on visiting her father’s scandalous sister, Fanny, Lady Parkhurst.
But Rosie knows that Aunt Fanny, a free spirit who has lived her life ignoring the strictures of family and society, is the perfect person to help Rosie experience life to its fullest before it’s too late-too late not for marriage, the usual goal of an unmarried woman, but for life itself. Rosie knows she’s dying, and the knowledge has freed her to become briefly Rosalind, a daring creature eager to do all the things Rosie would have been too prudent to attempt.

With Aunt Fanny’s help, Rosie has an extreme makeover—hair, dress, and demeanor. Rosalind emerges, a new woman. She’s a Success! She goes to balls, exhibitions, and the theater. She dances, flirts, and drinks too much champagne. She wins a curricle race, attends a masquerade, and waltzes at Almacks with being approved by a patroness. And she acquires a circle of admirers who are enchanted by the beautiful, vivacious Rosalind Lacey.
Through most of these dizzying activities, Rosalind’s companion is the wealthy rake Max Davenant, the second son of an earl. The earl was one of Aunt Fanny’s lovers, and Max and Fanny have been close friends since they first met when Max was scarcely more than a boy. Max has a problem too. He has experienced so much of life’s pleasures that he has grown bored with them. Indeed, his ennui is so severe that he is considering following the example of a friend who committed suicide. But the more time he spends in Rosalind’s presence, the more he sees the wonders and the absurdities of London life, and the more joy he finds in living.

I adored Rosie. She could easily have become a silly and pathetic character, but in Candice Hern’s skilled hands, she is an absolute delight--smart, endearing, and filled with elation as she adds items to her bucket list faster than she can check them off.

The list should have been getting smaller as more and more items had been checked off. She had been to Almack's, had danced all night at a grand private ball, had drunk champagne, had received flowers from admirers. That last had not actually been on the list, but it ought to have been. It was most gratifying to find the drawing room filled with bouquets the morning after the Sanbourne ball.
But the list actually grew longer as she added more items to it each day. To attend a masque wearing some sort of daring costume. To take snuff. To look up her uncle Talmadge and tell him exactly what she thought of him. And to defy the Almack's ladies and dance the waltz. With Max, of course. If she was going to tweak the noses of the lady patronesses, she might as well do it with a handsome and notorious rake.

She had spent the last dozen years doing all that was proper, acting the very paragon of responsibility. During these few short months left her, it was exhilarating to do and say exactly what she pleased, to throw propriety and respectability to the winds. Lord, but she was having fun!

Max won me over more slowly. Initially he reminded me of a character from Voltaire’s Candide: the Venetian senator, Pococurante, a wealthy man surrounded by riches and beauty who can find nothing pleasing enough to deliver him from his weariness with life. Max has the same listless attitude and self-absorption, and I didn’t find him at all appealing at first. But knowing Rosie changes him. Seeing the world through her eyes puts back all the color and light that self-pity and overindulgence have leached from life. His love for Rosie makes a man of him. I found him hard to resist as he grew to understand the treasure that Rosie is.
And each time he saw her smile, each time he joined in her laughter, each time he touched her, each time he held her in his arms during a waltz, each time he listened to her bright-eyed, exuberant, joyful account of some new wonder, she stole another little piece of his heart.

For readers who think of Regencies as “sweet,” there’s a surprise in store in Miss Lacey's Last Fling. Some of the most effective use of sexual tension I’ve ever seen can be found in traditional Regencies, and Hern uses it to great effect in this book. But she’s wise enough to challenge the conventions of the subgenre and allow Rosie to know romantic love in all its dimensions. I would have been disappointed had she not done so.

And about Rosie’s dying . . . You know this is a romance, right? The reader gets the guaranteed HEA, and its one that’s perfectly in keeping with Rosie who is also Rosalind.
How do you feel about traditional Regencies? What's your favorite Candice Hern book? Have you read romances that seem to belong more to one of the protagonists than to the other? 

Isn't the cover of the ebook lovely? Just to make it easy for you to find this favorite, here are links to sites selling the ebook:

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Prose Portal

I love Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books and their witty, book-loving protagonist. I love the idea of a world where literature reigns in popular culture, where characters have names like Braxton Hicks and Jack Schitt, where I can delight in allusions and word play that cover everything from the Bard to Buffy.

In the first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, Thursday’s Uncle Mycroft, a brilliant and “mad as pants” inventor, constructs the Prose Portal, a remarkable device that allows a reader to physically enter any book. Readers can experience the world of the text, interact with the book’s characters, and even change endings. From time to time, I think about what fun it would be to use the Prose Portal.

I haven’t made it to Greece yet, but via the Prose Portal, I could enter Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic and experience the beaches and castles of Corfu.

I could spend a Georgian Christmas with Jo Beverley’s Mallorens and see if Rothgar looks as I imagine him.

I could drop in on an Essex sisters chat and maybe catch a glimpse of Mayne.

I could spend some time in Ireland with Nora Roberts’s Concannons. I’d stay at Brianna Concannon Thane’s bed and breakfast, talk writing with her husband Grayson, visit Rogan’s gallery to see Maggie’s glass, and definitely get a friendly hug from Murphy Muldoon.

I could give Scarlett and Rhett a happy ending, and I would definitely change the ending of Elizabeth George’s With No One as Witness.

So what about you? If you had access to the Prose Portal, what would you do? What worlds would you visit? What characters would you talk to? What ending would you change?

Note: This is another recycled Vagabond blog. My deadline is Monday, July 25, but I’m hoping to upload the final article of this assignment Saturday. I promise all new posts next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Movie Review: I Like the Mushy Stuff

I'm still on deadline, and so I'm recycling another of my Vagabond blogs--a movie review for Review Tuesday.

“Oh, I like mushy stuff!” So says Ellen “Ellie” Andrews in my favorite romantic comedy, It Happened One Night. Directed and co-written (uncredited) by Frank Capra, who also gave us It’s A Wonderful Life, IHON won all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor—Clark Gable, Actress—Claudette Colbert, Director, and Screenplay) in 1934. More than 75 years after its release, the movie continues to delight the hearts of those who agree with Ellie’s taste for the “mushy stuff.” 

IHON has every thing to capture the hearts of romance lovers. First, most of us love the Cinderella motif, and IHON is a reverse Cinderella tale. Ellie Andrews, a spoiled heiress runs away from her privileged life when her father is determined to annul her marriage to a fortune-hunting rake. She finds herself living a life of 10-cent hamburgers, grungy bus rides, and cheap cabins. Her “prince” is the smart-mouthed, recently jobless newspaper reporter, Peter Warne.

IHON combines two other favorite themes of our genre, the road romance and the cabin romance. Ellie and Peter’s adventures take them on the road via bus, foot, and automobile. One of the most famous scenes in the movie has them hitchhiking. Peter, manlike, is convinced that he knows all there is to know about proper hitchhiking techniques. After lecturing Ellie, he proposes to demonstrate his skill, but the cars keep whizzing by them. Ellie then takes a turn, lifts her skirt, exposing a shapely leg, and a car stops immediately. Her victory gives her the opportunity for a great line: “Well, I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.” 

When Ellie and Peter are forced to share a cabin, Peter assures the unhappy Ellie that she is safe from his attentions. He divides the twin beds by a clothesline with a blanket over it and tells Ellie that it is the “walls of Jericho,” an impregnable fortress since he has no trumpet. He also does a partial strip in a chest-bearing scene that rivals current romance covers. In face, the bare-chested Gable was so sexy that he supposedly put a huge dent in undershirt sales with this scene. When he gets to the belt, Ellie retreats to her side of the “walls,” but she has her sexy moment too as the camera captures her silhouette and the lingerie she casts over the clothesline. The split-frame scene that follows with the two in their separate twin beds is a classic shot.

We romance readers fall in love with writers who excel at witty banter and emotionally charged exchanges. In this area too IHON is designed to charm us. Even early scenes between Ellie and her father are sure to evoke a smile.

Ellie You've been telling me what not to do ever since I can remember.
Mr. Andrews: That's because you've always been a stubborn idiot.
Ellie: I come from a long line of stubborn idiots.

The best banter, of course, is between Ellie and Peter. I love their exchange after Ellie has picked up on Peter’s cues and thrown detectives searching for her off course. I took the title of my post from this scene.

Peter: Hey, you know, you weren't bad jumping in like that. You've got a brain, haven't you!
Ellie: Well, you're not so bad yourself.
Peter: You know, we could start a two-people stock company. If things get tough, we'll play the small-town auditoriums...
Ellie: What about Cinderella or a real hot love story?
Peter: Oh no, no, no. That's too mushy.
Ellie: Oh I like mushy stuff.

As for the emotional charge, there is a tender moment when Peter shares his dream of escape to a Pacific island: “That's where I'd like to take her. She'd have to be the sort of a girl who'd jump in the surf with me and love it as much as I did. Nights when you and the moon and the water all become one. You feel you're part of something big and marvelous. That's the only place to live. The stars are so close over your head you feel you could reach up and stir them around. Certainly, I've been thinking about it. Boy, if I could ever find a girl who was hungry for those things...” 

IHON has its black moment too when Ellie and Peter misunderstand one another, and she is dressed in a wedding dress with guests assembled for a second ceremony with her playboy aviator, and it seems that this wealthy Cinderella and her ordinary-world prince will never be together. But this is a romance. We can count on the HEA, and we get one with sweetness and humor as a trumpet sounds and a blanket falls to the floor, and the screen goes dark.  

If you need an excuse the see it, IHON is significant in film history. It became a pattern for the successful “screwball comedies” of the 1930s and 40s. The American Film Institute places it  #8 on their 100 Funniest Movies list, #35 on their 100 Greatest Movies list, and #38 on their 100 Greatest Love Stories list. But I suggest you watch for the first time or the fifteenth just because it is a perfect film for those of us who “like the mushy stuff.”   

 Are you a fan of romantic comedies? What’s your favorite?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Timeless Advice Recycled

Deadline means I'm blog-brain dead. Thus, today's blog is recycled from my Romance Vagabond days. But since the subject is timeless writing advice, that shouldn't be a problem. Really!

A few weeks ago [a few years ago now] I came across a box of books I had put aside last spring [2008] when I moved because I wasn’t sure if I should discard them or not. Most of them were old paperbacks. I knew I needed to go through them, and in my new, anti-procrastination frame of mind, I decided I should complete the task without delay. Most of them I trashed—tattered first copies of books, books students gave me that I “had” to read, Dover Thrift editions of classics that I own in better editions. But one book I kept to take a closer look at: How to Write a Romance and Get It Published (1983) by Kathryn Falk, founder of Romantic Times. The cover pitch promises “Intimate Advice from the World’s Top Romance Writers.” I checked the table of contents.

Twenty-eight years  is a long time. This book was not only pre-Internet; it was pre-Nora. Frankly, many of the names I didn’t recognize, and some I did recognize didn’t make me want to sit down and start reading. But then I saw “Jayne Castle,” and on page 115 was a young Jayne Ann Krentz, whom I would never have recognized, advising me on how to begin my book. Her cardinal rule” “Write 'em the way you like to read 'em.”  Hmm, sounded like pretty good advice to me.

I returned to the table of contents. This time I saw “Maggie Osborne.” Maggie Osborne! Writing on character! This woman has created some of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered. I quickly turned to 87. She’s wearing a hat and an expression that says she knows something I don’t. Well, of course, I know she does. I started reading. And the first things she tells me to do to know my characters are things I have done, maybe because I read Maggie Osborne books. Then she tells me to do something I never thought of: clip pictures that resemble my characters and draw in any scars, beards, moles, etc. that my characters have, so that my heroine’s lone dimple won’t start out on her right cheek and leap to her left on page 107. I should do that. In my first book I was always forgetting which of my hero’s hands he could not use, a real problem with the love scenes.

Maggie also gives me advice on dialogue. Effective dialogue should do three of the following things: (1) Aid characterization through content and presentation. (2) Develop the story line. (3) Show characters’ state of mind and temperament. (4) Provide new information to the reader. (5) Interrupt lengthy narrative and pick up the pace of your story. Ouch! Clearly Maggie knows the problem I have with lengthy narrative.

I have to go give my dialogue the three point check. Oh, about the book! It’s staying on my desk. Roberta Gellis and Marion Chesney have a thing or two to teach me as well. And who knows? I may check out some of the writers I don’t know. I may even read the Barbara Cartland interview. If I can keep writing as long as she did, I may have time to be published.

But Nora was published in 1983. They could have added her in a postscript or something. Didn’t they know who she was going to be?

 What about you? Have you ever rediscovered advice you had forgotten? Whom do you trust as a dispenser of advice, writing advice or some other kind?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Review: One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry

One Good Reason
By Sarah Mayberry
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Four and a half Stars

Sarah Mayberry is writing some of the best contemporary romance available, and she’s doing it in category romance. One Good Reason features Jon Adamson, the older brother of Tyler Adamson, hero of The Last Goodbye (February 2011). Jon has spent the past ten years in Canada where he owned a successful construction business specializing in high-end housing. After the death of his abusive father, he has returned to Australia to work in his brother’s furniture design business.

Gabby Wade is the office manager in his brother’s company. She loves her job, but she has spent the past four years in an emotional limbo, never moving past the fact that her three-year relationship with Tyler ended because he could not give her the trust and openness she needed, the trust and openness he has given so freely to the woman he married.

From the moment they meet, Jon and Gabby clash. She finds him rude and insensitive, and she’s concerned that he may be taking advantage of Tyler. He thinks she’s humorless and defensive, with the looks of a sexless teenager and enough attitude for a dozen of her size. Clearly, they are destined to fall madly in love, and they do, but only after a journey filled with laughter, poignancy, hot kisses, and heartbreak.

Mayberry’s books are relationship stories about adults who have histories, flaws, and dreams. Gabby’s mother and sister are not characters in the book; neither is Jon and Tyler’s father. But all of them are part of the stories of these two people, and in only a few words, Mayberry reveals a great deal about the family connections. Gabby’s easy friendship with the guys in the shop, her somewhat surprising close ties with Tyler and Ally, and Jon’s relationship with Tyler are major threads in the story, but they add to rather than distract from the growing relationship between Gabby and Jon.

Jon’s history as an abused child is not merely a ploy to win sympathy for a self-contained and taciturn hero. The guilt that has tortured him for all his adult life, his struggle with alcohol, his determination to avoid long-term relationships that require responsibility and commitment—all of these are the result of the physical and emotional abuse endured by the boy he was. While Gabby’s past is less painful than Jon’s, it is equally clear that her prickly independence is the result of having been brought up by a mother determined to teach her daughters to be self-reliant in all situations.

One scene in particular illustrates what sets Mayberry apart from many writers I have tried and given up on. Early in the novel, Gabby makes a misstep on a ladder, and Jon is there to grab the ladder and Gabby: “A bare five seconds of contact. Long enough to tilt her world off its axis.”

I have seen similar scenes turn into instant realizations of one-of-a-kind, never-ending love, and I’ve seen them turn into steamy, never-before-experienced sex.  Instead Mayberry turn it into a moment of insight for Gabby.

“I don’t even like him.

But she was wise enough in the ways of the world to understand that sometimes it wasn’t about liking the other person. Sometimes it was about pure animal attraction. And apparently, whether she liked it or not, the animal in her was attracted to the animal in him.”

Later Gabby learns to like Jon and still later she admits she loves him. There’s also plenty of steamy sex later, including a sizzling desk-top scene, but the sex, the liking, and the love are all part of a credibly developing relationship between these two people.

I’m always bothered when a reviewer raves about a book and then fails to give it the highest possible grade, so I’ll add that I gave One Good Reason 4.5 rather than 5 stars because in every scene with Gabby and Ally being “just us girlfriends,” I was saying to myself “Really? Gabby slept with her husband for three years and now the two women are best friends?” The question of jealousy that cuts both ways is briefly addressed once, but the girlfriend scenes pulled me out of the story nonetheless. But that’s a minor flaw in a book I loved. There’s another Mayberry book, All They Need, scheduled for release November 1, and I can’t wait to read it.

I must add that if you have never read a Harlequin Superromance, August is a great month to give one a try. One Good Reason is the only release I have already read, but three more of my favorite Super authors have August releases: Karina Bliss, Stand-in Wife; Helen Brenna, Her Sure Thing; and Beth Andrews, Feels Like Home. Brenna and Andrews are Rita winners, and Bliss’s What the Librarian Did was on many Best of 2010 lists (including mine).

Do you read categories? What are your favorite lines? Favorite authors?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sometimes It's Magic, Sometimes . . .

Sometimes writing is magic. There may be no witches, wizards, or wands, no fairy godmothers, wondrous spells, or carpets that fly, but it’s magic just the same. How can it be anything but magic when all of a sudden the words are there in my mind? They flow from head to fingers to paper, apparently without effort. I hear the voices of my characters clearly as they reveal things to one another and to themselves.  I become a conduit for the ideas and images that come so fast I have trouble getting everything on the page. These are the days that leave me smiling and energized, certain the dreams floating like a brightly colored bouquet of balloons are just one grasp away.  I’m a writer.

Other days writing is work, hard work, too often fruitless labor. I write a sentence only to scratch it out. Every word that survives feels as if it’s heavy, weighed down by the darkness and doubt from which it emerged.  My characters have to be coaxed to speak, and then they snarl or sputter, giving me little I can use. My muse is on an extended vacation. I think she went to Saturn. For every word I keep, a dozen are blacked out in marks so emphatic they bleed through the page. These are the days that leave me weary and discouraged. I’m a failure.

Now I know there are writers who don’t suffer from such vicissitudes. They write every day, always meeting their word target, and accept philosophically that what needs changing can be tackled in revisions. I admire and envy the more disciplined and even-tempered, but surely I’m not alone in my feast and famine days. Surely I’m not the only writer who thrills to the magic and suffers through the drudgery.  So, taking a page from my friend MsHellion’s book, I give you a writer’s version of “The Bug,” with appropriate apologies to Mark Knopfler, who wrote it; Dire Straits, who recorded it; and Mary Chapin Carpenter, who covered it, and dedicate it to all the writers who just keep writing on the days when its magic and on the days when it’s a grind.

Just Work
Well, it's a strange old game - you got to know.
One page written, in the trash it’ll go.
You’re hitting the 10K mark.
You’re staring at the page.
In the groove--'til you write a cliché.

Sometimes it’s the magic.
Sometimes it’s just work.
Sometimes the words come together, my friend.
Sometimes writing’s all murk.
Sometimes the dream’s right there in your hands.
Sometimes you’re the worst.
Sometimes you’re flying sky high, my friend.
Sometimes you're gonna think you’re cursed.

You gotta do the dance - you gotta rejoice
because you're gonna know rotten,
and you'll lose your voice.
When you're writing and a grinning’
and the work’s like a song,
you start falling and fading
and it all goes wrong because

Sometimes it’s the magic.
Sometimes it’s just work.
Sometimes the words come together, my friend.
Sometimes writing’s all murk.
Sometimes the dream’s right there in your hands.
Sometimes you’re the worst.
Sometimes you’re flying sky high, my friend.
Sometimes you're gonna think you’re cursed.

One day your muse is vocal.
One day she’s gone mute.
One day you're a goddess,
and next you're a newt.
Everything can change
in the dot of an i,
so write while you can, friend
before the well runs dry, because

Sometimes it’s the magic.
Sometimes it’s just work.
Sometimes the words come together, my friend.
Sometimes writing’s all murk.
Sometimes the dream’s right there in your hands.
Sometimes you’re the worst.
Sometimes you’re flying sky high, my friend.
Sometimes you're gonna know you’re cursed.

What's your creative process like? Any of you share my sunshine and shadow pattern, or are you all  well-adjusted and disciplined?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tuesday Review: The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton

The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton
By Miranda Neville
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Five Stars

Things look bleak for Celia Seaton when she’s an unemployed governess without recommendation or reputation, but worse turns to worst when she finds herself kidnapped, robbed, stripped to her skimpy shift, and left alone in the attic of a moorland cottage to think about what her captor’s return may mean. But with a little prayer, a lot of daring, and a new determination to end her people-pleasing, rule-following ways, Celia escapes. When she tries to get inside the cottage to search for something to cover herself, she finds the doorway blocked by the unconscious body of a man wearing only breeches and boots.

To her surprise, the body is that of Mr. Tarquin Compton, “the ton’s most fashionable gentleman,” equally famous for his “exquisite taste and poisonous tongue.” When she realizes that a blow to his head has left Tarquin with no memory of who he is, the temptation to wreak revenge on the man who publicly compared her to a cauliflower is irresistible. She tells him he is Terence Fish, a clergyman and her betrothed. What follows is a delightful journey from the Yorkshire moors to the world where Tarquin belongs and Celia decidedly does not. “Terence” turns out to be a man with a kind heart, a sense of humor, and some surprising skills. Tarquin’s proximity, a novel (The Genuine and Remarkable Amours of the Celebrated Author Peter Aretin), and growing intimacies with her “betrothed” begin Celia’s “amorous education.”

Celia thinks of her time with “Terence” as an idyll, but idylls by definition are brief and episodic. Tarquin recovers his memory and his arrogance, and pastoral bliss is replaced by civilization. Life becomes complicated by social realities and determined villains. Can love triumph over social realities, interfering relatives, and pride? Since this is a romance, we know the answer to that question; but the journey to this HEA is well worth taking,

 Why did I love this book? Let me count the ways, five of them at least.

1.     Celia

Strength in heroines can take many forms, and Celia’s stout heart, ready sense of humor, and refusal to be daunted by all that life throws at her make up a strength I can believe in and relate to. A lesser person would be paralyzed by self-pity, but Celia soldiers on through dismissal, kidnapping, hunger, and heartbreak. I especially love the divided Celias. Sensible Celia and Besotted Celia pull in opposite directions: “Sensible Celia wanted Tarquin only if she could be sure their marriage wouldn’t leave her a sad neglected shadow in his godlike glory. Besotted Celia just wanted him, at any time, under any conditions.”

2.     Tarquin

He is a dandy, an aloof soul, and a wit who is carelessly cruel, but there are reasons for the image he presents to his world. When the garments that define him are stripped away, a very different man emerges. And even when he becomes Tarquin Compton again, he is not the man he was. I fell in love with him when he looked at Celia, found her “neither plain nor pretty,” doubted that he could ever have fallen in love with her at first sight, but acknowledges that he could have fallen in love with her after knowing her long enough to appreciate her courage, her quick wit, and her humor. That sounds to me like a much more promising foundation for a lifetime together.

3.     The humor

Some books give me the feeling that I can almost see the author’s smile beyond the pages. This was such a book. I felt as if Miranda Neville had as much fun writing the book as I was having reading it. Much of the humor, like the novel itself, is character-driven, my favorite kind. For example, Celia, having great fun with Terence Fish, cries, “Can you have forgotten the sweet moment when I promised to be yours?” Tarquin thinks, “Good God. Could he possibly be the kind of man who went in for sweet moments?” 

4.     The epigrams

I’m not a big fan of prefatory matter for each chapter. Sometimes they add to the story, but more often I just find them distracting. But I loved the twisted proverbs that Neville uses. From the first one, “Never get into a cart with a strange man,” they had me chuckling. My favorite is for chapter 31: “When it comes to a book, the good bits are always worth reading again.” That just works on so many levels.

5.     The title

The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton reminded me immediately of the movie The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), based on Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722). Moll’s story is far more scandalous and adventure-filled than Celia’s, but both characters engage in activities forbidden rule-following women, both rise from humble origins to a much higher social station, and both eventually find happiness with their one true love. What can I say? You can take the English professor away from literary fiction, but you can’t take allusion hunting away from the professor.

This is the third book in Amanda Neville’s Burgundy Club series, following The Wild Marquis and The Dangerous Viscount. The three books are connected by the role of books and by recurring characters, but each is distinctly its own tale, well able to function as a stand-alone book. The Burgundy Club has become one of my favorite series because of Neville’s superb characterization and her ability to bring a freshness to a subgenre that often suffers from the affliction of sameoldness.  The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton—it is funny, tender, with the spice of difference—and did I say hot? I give it a bells-and-whistles recommendation.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ruminating 'Bout the RITAs

RITA Awards Credit: Creative Commons Attribution License photo by A writer afoot -

Tonight the winners of the 2011 Ritas will be announced. More than 80 books in 12 categories have been named finalists for the coveted statuette that, despite its acronymic appearing official designation as the RITA®, is named for Rita Clay Estrada, the first president of RWA. For the first seven years, the award presented to the works of romance fiction deemed the best of the previous year’s offerings was called the Golden Medallion. It didn’t become the RITA until 1990. The number of categories has fluctuated from a low of six the first year (1983) to a high of thirteen as recently as 2006. Comparisons to the Oscars are common but a bit misleading for literalists. Both finalists and winners are selected by a panel of judges. At no point do the members of RWA vote on winners. This fact should not dim the luster of the award nor detract from the excitement of the finalists or the glory of the winners. It certainly doesn’t affect my eagerness to know the winners.
I’m a sucker for award shows, and if I were running the universe, tonight’s awards would be televised--complete with red carpet scrutiny and post-award interviews. But I’ll have to be satisfied with the tweets that will come as the announcements are made and the pictures that will be posted later. I have my ballot marked with projected winners, and I have favorites, who shall remain nameless, for whom I’m keeping all appendages crossed.  This year for the first time I remember I’ve read at least one book in each category, a total of thirty-three books. I read somewhere that reading sixteen RITA-nominated books qualified one as a RITA stalker. I guess I’m over-qualified.
Best First Book: Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner; When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer
Contemporary Series Romance: Welcome Home, Cowboy by Karen Templeton
Contemporary Series Romance Suspense/Adventure: The Moon That Night by Helen Brenna; Perfect Partners? By C. J. Carmichael

Contemporary Single Title Romance: Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts; Nothing But Trouble by Rachel Gibson; Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis; Still the One by Robin Wells
Historical Romance: The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne; His at Night by Sherry Thomas; A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James; Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase; A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl; One Wicked Sin by Nicola Cornick; Open Country by Kaki Warner
Inspirational Romance: Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist; Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements: The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourne; On Folly Beach by Karen White; The Search by Nora Roberts; Welcome to Harmony by Jodi Thomas
Paranormal Romance: Immortal Sea by Virginia Kantra
Regency Historical Romance: His Christmas Pleasure by Cathy Maxwell; The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig; Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean; Provocative in Pearls by Madeline Hunter; To Surrender to a Rogue by Cara Elliott; Twice Tempted by a Rogue by Tessa Dare; When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer; The Wicked Wyckerly by Patricia Rice
Romance Novella: “A Dundee Christmas” by Brenda Novak in That Christmas Feeling
Romantic Suspense: Edge of Sight by Roxanne St. Claire
Young Adult Romance: Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder
You can see the full list of finalists here. I’ll also be watching for the Golden Heart announcements and cheering for Banditas Anna Sugden and Nancy Northcott and for new Samhain author Leigh LaValle.
Are you excited about the RITA Awards? How many of this year’s finalists have you read? Care to share which finalists would evoke your loudest cheers should they win? Who were you surprised to see not on the list of 2011 finalists?