Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Is Romance a Four-Letter Word?

Romance is Not a Four Letter Word
by Barbara Vey, at the Publishers Weekly site

She's got some excellent points. Romance is my preferred reading genre. And yes, I hear many people disparage it as unimportant, "light", non-significant. Oh, and "aimed only at women" - uh, that means over half the population, over 70% of the regular readers in the US. There's something wrong with literature aimed at women?

When someone tells me they don't read or don't like romances, I always ask them what romances they have read that caused them to dislike the genre. I think you can guess the most common response -- the person has never read a romance. Nope, they are just taking a snobbish attitude that they learned from others -- or unfortunately, from the media.

A related issue is "romance" as a genre. Ever had a non-romance reader concede they're willing to try it, and ask you for a recommendation? Well, that's impossible. There is no such thing as just a "romance" that epitomizes the genre or is the best. "Romance" is as generic a term as "literary fiction". If you really hope to suggest a book the potential reader might enjoy and that would give them a positive opinion on romance novels, you've got to ask what types of books they already like. Historical, contemporary, futuristic/scifi, paranormal? Light and amusing or dark and angsty? Do they want a book with deep emotions that will make them cry, or do they prefer something humorous and entertaining that will lift their spirits? Find out what best fits them, and recommend a romance novel of that type.

So those of us who love romance novels, be we readers or writers, need to proselytize in order to counteract the negative opinions of many people. If you see someone reading a book in public, chat them up -- well, if you can do so without coming across as a stalker, and if they don't indicate they really don't want to be interrupted in their reading. And talk to people browsing the bookstore! Ask them for a recommendation -- that leads to the opportunity for you to offer them one. Always have a good book (preferably a romance, of course) with you, that you can whip out and talk about. That's what purses, briefcases, and pockets are for -- carrying books.

I can't imagine not having a book with me at all times, just like I can't imagine not enjoying some type of romance novels.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Don't Start, or Don't Finish

On July 3, I blogged about dropping books I wasn't enjoying: "I had an epiphany. I do NOT have to finish every book I start. If it's bad, I'm allowed to stop wasting time on it."

So...what books haven't I finished recently?

Temping Fate by Esther Friesner - Okay, this is Young Adult, not my usual reading material, but I've been trying to expand, to taste other genres and see what's popular. And I've read a lot of Ms. Friesner's older fantasy books - they tend to be light, quick, reasonably entertaining reads when you don't want to have to think too much or feel too much. This contemporary paranormal YA got good reviews and many YA fantasy books do seem popular with more, umm, "mature" adult readers, so I decided to give it a try. I'm not saying it's a bad book - if you are a teenager you may love it. But I'm not a teenager - heck, my kids are no longer teenagers. I enjoyed the world she creates, the paranormal elements. But by halfway through, it was getting a bit tedious. And I was REALLY tired of the teenage angst and cliques and petty jealousies. So I stopped - I wasn't enjoying it, so I didn't spend any more time on it.

The Silver Fox and the Red-Hot Dove by Deborah Smith - This is an old (1991) LoveSwept. Hey, my TBR shelves have a long history! I'll catch up someday. Not bothering to waste time finishing this one allowed me to move on to other books from those overloaded shelves. This isn't badly written in style, but it is full of factual inaccuracies, cliches, and generally silly and unbelievable behavior by the characters. Oh, and since I skipped to the end just to see what happened, I discovered the heroine descends into a TSTL moment (not that she was particularly bright from the beginning) in order to bring about the big dramatic moment and self-sacrifice for looove.

Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels - I believe this is the start of a mystery series. Ex-rich girl now poor takes a job as tour guide in a Cleveland cemetery, falls and hits her head, and now can communicate with ghosts. It isn't bad, it just didn't grab me fast enough or hard enough to keep me going past Chapter One. I think maybe I was more in the mood for romance and deep emotion, and this isn't that. So I have put it aside for a while; maybe I'll give it another try someday.

With Nine You Get Vanyr by Jean Marie Ward & Teri Smith - If you decide to read this, keep a pad of paper and a pen handy from the start. There are SO many characters it's impossible to keep them all straight. Some of the personalities are not well defined, which makes it harder to remember the identity and role of each. And it goes from our world to an alternate universe with a whole other set of names and terms. The book definitely would have benefited by having in the front a list of characters and place names. The main characters of this story (I assume there will be sequels) just lacked something and I couldn't get into them even after a couple of chapters, so I put the book down. It's fantasy/scifi, not romance, so next time I'm in the mood for that genre I may give this another try - AND make those lists as I read, so I can keep checking on who is whom or what or where. But for now, I'll "just say No". (Oh, and the damned thing is printed in incredibly tiny font, making it really difficult to read.)

So, with the time I saved by not continuing to read the books I was not enjoying, I've been able to wallow in truly good books. Reviews to come, maybe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Covers: Effective Erotica

The Ellora's Cave Exotika is a line of erotica - stories that focus on the sexual journey and adventure, not the romantic relationship. The look they've created for the covers of these stories is, in my opinion, extremely effective for the genre and quite enticing to purchasers looking for quality erotica. Kudos to EC's cover artists.

Covers: Are You Happy To See Me?

OH MY GOD! Run, woman, run - Don't let that thing anywhere near you!

I haven't read this book, but I feel intense pity for the poor heroine. There's no way that sex with that monster cock is anything but painful. (And don't even THINK about anal.) And draping it in a, umm, drapery is not going to disguise it. This guy probably ignored those warnings about priapism in the Viagra commercials and now has a permanent pulsing python.

Hmm, I guess whom I really pity is the poor author, who got shafted with this obscenely ridiculous cover.

Book Review: The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’m on an historical romance kick at the moment, which is unusual for me—I’m a paranormal gal generally. But there actually seem to be some fresh voices and new styles coming out in historicals, to tempt me back to that genre!

Setting: 1760 England

This is definitely a character-driven story. I became thoroughly attached to the hero and heroine, and to the heroine's brothers. I was a bit less thrilled with her 15-year-old-sister, but hey, teenage girls even 250 years ago were as annoying and self-centered as they are nowadays.
Lady Georgina "George" Maitland is at her country estate to deal with problems with her young sister. She's basically been the mother figure in the family, taking care of her younger siblings because their father was uncaring and their mother sunk in hypochondria. George quickly becomes very interested in her new land steward, Harry Pye. She defends him when all the locals think he is sabotaging farmers on the neighboring estate in revenge against the lord of that land. George decides that at her age, she wants to experience passion, and Harry is just the type of man she wants. The more time George spends with Harry, the more she comes to admire his ethics and devotion and intelligence; she is however, very reluctant to commit to a permanent relationship or to make Harry feel trapped into marriage. Of course, her family is less than understanding about her affair with a man so much lower on the social and economic ladder than her, although eventually her brothers see Harry's quality and come to like him personally.
Meanwhile, we learn the sordid history of the neighbors, and the secret of Harry's parentage (no, this isn't the cliched plot where he is suddenly revealed as an aristocrat by birth). Lord Granville is a bit over the top as the villain—he's just tooooo evil, a madman with no redeeming qualities who's abused his wife and sons all his life, treated the people on his land with cruelty.
I can't describe too much without spoilers, but I must say I loved the interactions between George and her brothers, and their scenes with Harry. The scene at the end in the church is just hysterical in an understated way.

I do question the historical accuracy of the social and cultural elements of this story. Could even a noblewoman have that much legal autonomy and independence in that time period? Would she be so socially acceptable/fashionable when unmarried by age 28? Could the son of a gamekeeper truly rise to the position of steward of large estates, and marry the aristocratic lady without both of them being ostracized by Society? This time period is not one I’m very knowledgeable about—but it struck me as odd and requiring a good bit of “suspension of disbelief” while I was reading.

ISBN 9780446618489; US$6.99; © 2007
Warner Forever/Hachette Book Group

Book Review: No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey

I first read this little fantasy when it originally came out ten years ago. I remembered it fondly and so was thrilled when it was reissued this summer.

The story takes place in the sorta medieval kingdom of Esphaia. The wise and careful regent Mangan has just died, leaving young Prince Jamas to prove he can run the country on his own. Jamas learned well from his regent, and he has a very special advantage--Mangan's cat Niffy seems to have some special skills at judging people and situations, and now becomes Jamas' companion and protector.

Jamas quickly has to deal with the ambitious ruler of the neighboring country. King Egdril seems most inclined to encourage relations by a marriage between the two families, but his wicked and conniving wife has other ideas. It's amazing how many nobles in their country have died recently, especially those who opposed the queen or had something she wanted.

One of Egdril's nieces, lovely Willow, does indeed catch Jamas' interest and he's more than willing to marry her. But she fears that she is being used in the evil queen's machinations and the marriage will only lead to Jamas' "accidental" death.

This is a cute and interesting little story. Niffy provides a touch of the paranormal, there is a mild, sweet romance between Jamas and Willow, and the suspense associated with how to end the murderous queen. This is, indeed, an excellent young adult fantasy, I recommend it for preteens and young teens.

ISBN 9780843959031; US$5.99; (c) 1996

Published by Dorchester Publishing in collaboration with Wildside Press.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Writing "The End"

I've been MIA on this blog for a week and a half because - I finally finished the story I was writing! Okay, it's a novella, so it's not like I've been working on it for the past year. More like two months off and on of writing and self-editing, showing it to critique partners. But, damn, it's such a rush to finish, type "The End" and say "I wrote a book!" It's the second one, but for some reason the feeling of accomplishment is even greater than the first time. I was actually dancing around the room in excitement, which seemed to traumatize my cats. (What, they were afraid I'd step on them?)

Maybe it's because I felt more connected to this story? It's fiction, but loosely based on an incident from my life. Once I started it, the ideas and words flowed the way they never have before, the emotion was a lot stronger -- and I think I was more eloquent in conveying it.

Do all writers feel this way when they complete a story? I don't know, I'd be interested in hearing. I know my critique partners vary in their reactions. One of them hates to finish a story, it actually seems to make her sad to have it done, no more following the lives of those characters.

And now the next step - getting brave enough to submit it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Review: Second Sight by Amanda Quick

This is the start of Quick’s (Jayne Anne Krentz) Arcane Society series. The stories are set in Victorian England, and are romantic suspense with a strong touch of paranormal.

The Arcane Society is basically a secret club devoted to examining “psychical phenomenon”; the members are described as “obsessive, reclusive eccentrics” and are paranoid in their insistence on secrecy. The society was founded 200 years ago by an alchemist who wanted to develop a formula to enhance people’s paranormal/psychic powers. The story opens with the decendents of the Alchemist discovering his hidden tomb and the secrets it contains.

Venetia Milton is hired by the Society to come to Arcane House and photograph the collection of artifacts and relics. After the death of their parents, Venetia has used her photography business to support her siblings and maiden aunt, and the impressive payment from the Arcane Society for her task will enable her to move her family to London and set up as a fashionable society photographer. But before doing that, she wants a chance to experience physical passion by having a short, clandestine affair—since she’s too old and poor now to attract a husband. Plus few people outside her family would understand her odd little talent of seeing people’s auras.

Gabriel Jones, son of the current Master of the Society and great-great-whatever of the founder, is Venetia’s host at Arcane House, and definitely responds to Venetia’s tentative seduction. But their night of passion is interrupted by housebreakers, and Gabriel sends the household away to safety while his “hunter” psyche takes over to deal with the intruders. Venetia is devastated to later read a newspaper article about Gabriel’s death and the destruction by fire of Arcane House. However, there is a silver lining. To establish a staid and non-scandalous presence in London, she plans to present herself as a widow—and why not go by the name Mrs. Jones?

Unfortunately, newspaper articles can be wrong. Venetia’s careful plans and her success as a London photographer are threatened when her “husband” appears in society alive and well. And insists to her that she is in danger from the unknown enemy trying to steal the old Alchemist’s secret formula. Now Venetia and her oddly talented family must play along, pretending joy at her husband’s return. But she also insists on becoming very involved in helping Gabriel find the villain.

I always enjoy Quick’s heroines. They are assertive, intelligent women trying to function in a society that expects them to be subservient to men. And they sensibly choose mates who can respect them and allow them to be what they are.

I love the “sound” of the dialogue in this story, it adds so much to the authentic feel of the period setting. It isn’t that there are words used then but not now, but rather the patterns and rhythms of speech.

My only complaint with the story was the basic set-up of why Gabriel presented himself publicly as Venetia’s lost husband. It’s pointed out that the name Jones is so common, there was no real link to him and no need for him to join her subterfuge. Gabriel’s reasons, related to his belief the hidden enemy would be after Venetia, just didn’t seem plausible to me. The situation came across as forced and fake, something the author shoved into the story in order to set up the continuing relationship between Gabriel and Venetia.

Jove Historical Romance, paperback, ISBN 9780515142808, © 2006, US$7.99

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Book Review: Michelle’s Men by Lynn LaFleur

This is the second in the Cooper’s Companion series about two brothers and a sister who own a male escort service. No, they don’t rent out gigolos, they really do provide women with respectable male escorts to events – but hey, if the client is interested in a little more “personal” service…

While Michelle’s brother is off on his honeymoon (read the first book in the series, Rent-A-Stud), she is interviewing new escorts. Andre and Nathan are absolute hunks, new in town, and looking for interesting part-time jobs to supplement their own freelance work—Andre’s a photographer and Nathan’s a writer. Michelle can’t help drooling over them both, even though she has a rule about never dating any of the employees/escorts. And it becomes clear they return her interest—both of them.

They eventually convince Michelle to date them alternately, and she becomes more confused and conflicted when she realizes she loves each of them for their different personalities. She’s sure she can’t have both—boy, what would her brothers say to that?—but how’s a girl to choose? What she doesn’t yet know is that Andre and Nathan are not only best friends and housemates, but have been lovers for years. They also both enjoy women, and they don’t want to make Michelle choose between them, they want to enjoy her together.

Wow, get out the asbestos oven mitts to hold this book. Andre and Nathan, Michelle and Andre, Michelle and Nathan…and eventually Michelle and Nathan and Andre. I loved all the combinations. These characters are great, the story is fun.

Michelle’s Men, ISBN 9781419911347, digital download $5.95 from Ellora’s Cave

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Talking to the Author: Lynn LaFleur

Lynn LaFleur has a number of erotic romances out with Ellora's Cave and Avon Red, and a non-erotic romance from Cerridwen Press. She writes contemporaries, some with a trace of the paranormal. She writes both novellas and longer length stories. Try her Happy Birthday, Baby four-story collection from Ellora's Cave for a taste of a bit of everything!

Seren: Although you have other menage a trois stories at EC, "Michelle's Men" is the first one to include male-on-male sex in the relationship. What made you decide to do that?

Lynn: I read my first M/M romance about a year ago. I thought the developing relationship, both physical and emotional, was very well done. It made me curious about other authors' books featuring M/M, so I purchased several. These books are romances in every sense. Romantic, loving, showing genuine caring between the two men. I liked that and wanted to try writing one myself. I mentioned the idea of a menage featuring some M/M scenes to my Ellora's Cave editor. She said to go for it.

Seren: Why do you thing m/m romantic relationships have recently become such a big fad with women romance readers?

Lynn: Fantasy. Two hunky, attractive, sexy men who are in love and show that love sexually. Men have the same fantasy about two women having sex. It's hot and exciting and a little naughty. That sense of the forbidden makes it even more hot and exciting.

Seren: Do you think romance readers are as interested in just two men as they are in man/man/woman menages?

Lynn: As a reader, I like the menages best. What women wouldn't want two men who only want to please her? But strictly M/M romances are very popular, and show no signs of losing that popularity. Different readers have different tastes. That makes it so much fun for an author!

Seren: How do you research your male-on-male sex scenes? Do you think they are realistic?

Lynn: I read a lot of M/M books from other romance authors. And yes, I watched some gay movies. Purely for research, of course. I do believe my scenes are realistic, based on what I read and watched. I've had some wonderful fan letters from readers saying how much they enjoyed the book. I don't think they would've said that if the scenes didn't work for them.

Seren: Do you have more stories coming? And if so, will some include m/m or m/m/f?

Lynn: Michelle's Men was so much fun to write, and the response from readers has been wonderful. I definitely plan to write another book in the future featuring M/M or M/M/F.

Thank you so much for talking with me, Lynn! Best success for your upcoming books!