Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Relational romance

Talking with Nicola about J.R. Ward’s heroes – and, specifically, why I am so drawn to that series, almost despite myself – I keep coming back to the non-romantic relationships in the books.

In the industry, these characters are called “secondary.” Hmph, I say. Secondary to what? To the romance? I’ll agree with that, but not with the idea that they are secondary to the action or the nature of the novel.

Let’s face it: Straight romance doesn’t have a ton of surprises to offer us. It can be well written or badly written, sweet or erotic, cozy or adventurous, but there’s rarely a question of whether it will end happily. It will end happily. That’s the point.

So how do we set one romance novel apart from the others? I would argue that the best books on the market today are the ones where the secondary (and tertiary!) characters are as real and engaging as the hero and heroine.

I thought I would make a list of authors (and/or series) that I love because of the secondary characters:

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books
I wonder if this series (beginning with The Duke and I) would be nearly so fun without the initially-unseen-except-for-chapter-headings gossip queen Lady Whistledown. Or, I ask you, without the other seven siblings mucking things up (or solving things) for whichever Bridgerton is the present protagonist? One of my favorite Bridgerton scenes has almost nothing to do with “romance,” and everything to do with how the heroine fits in with the hero’s family. In this scene, Kate has been invited to play croquet (or Pall Mall), and they’re setting up the course in the hero (Anthony’s) absence:

"Let me take half of those,” Daphne said, reaching for the wickets in her brother’s hand. “Miss Sheffield and I … that is, Kate and I”—she flashed Kate a friendly grin—“will set up three of them and you and Simon can do the rest.”
Before Kate could even venture an opinion, Daphne had taken her by the arm and was leading her toward the lake.
“We have to make absolutely certain that Anthony loses his ball in the water,” Daphne muttered. “I have never forgiven him for last time. I thought Benedict and Colin were going to die laughing. And Anthony was the worst. He just stood there smirking. Smirking!” She turned to Kate with a most beleaguered expression. “No one smirks quite like my eldest brother.”
“I know,” Kate muttered under her breath.
Thankfully, the duchess hadn’t heard her. “If I could have killed him, I vow I would have.”
“What will happen once all your balls are lost in the lake?” Kate couldn’t resist asking. “I haven’t played with you lot yet, but you do seem rather competitive, and it seems …”
“That it would be inevitable?” Daphne finished for her. She grinned. “You’re probably right. We have no sense of sportsmanship when it comes to Pall Mall. When a Bridgerton picks up a mallet, we become the worst sorts of cheaters and liars. Truly, the game is less about winning than making sure the other players lose. … It seems a waste, I know, but worth it to humiliate my brothers.”

Jennifer Crusie’s anything
I’ve often sold my friends on Jennifer Crusie’s books by telling them that they will never laugh as hard reading any other romance novel. She’s funny and the wit is sly, and a lot of it has to do with secondary characters acting as the voices of reason.

Let’s face it: The early stages of love make us all behave like idiots, and it’s only right that the love portrayed in romance novels should occasionally turn our heroes and heroines into idiots, too. And, to complete the cycle, that they have friends and families that will happily – gleefully, even – point it out.

Another thing to love about Crusie is that a lot of the tension in her romances comes from her couples having to deal with the insane vagaries of everyday life. They’re not so much beset by pirate ships and spy rings as they are plagued by families whose every-family-has-one craziness is magnified. Also? She’s not afraid to put a funny line in a woman’s mouth, and that’s a quality much to be prized. (Don’t you get sick of men being the only ones who are allowed to be overtly comic?)

Favorite Crusie book has got to be the utterly priceless Bet Me, although you honestly can’t go wrong with anything she writes, and you’ll definitely fall in love with her books co-written with Bob Mayer, and her books about the Dempsey family, starting with Welcome to Temptation.

Nora Roberts’ The Quinn Legacy
This is the story of three (well, four) adopted brothers who are dealing with their father’s death and the ongoing fight to keep custody of the fourth, significantly younger, brother. That tension and trouble runs throughout the first three books and it’s simply lovely.

As is usual for Roberts’s series, there are three basic “types”: The glamorous jetsetter sibling, the sensible, type-A sibling, and the salt-of-the-earth, quietly deep sibling. I think she does better cast development with the Quinns than with any other series; the brothers (all of whom end up with their own books) are nuanced and rude to each other and messy and imperfect in ways that are true to their typical Roberts archetype.

I’d argue that the secondary characters are fewer and shallower with Roberts than with other writers, but she’s one of the queens of the genre and this is her best work (imho), so I thought I should include it.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ football and golf books
Whaaa? Football and golf?

Football. And. Golf. Take it as an article of faith that anyone who loves character-driven, secondary-character packed romance will adore any SEP book that includes a pro athlete. (Which means football or golf; she hasn’t yet ventured into luge or pro wrestling, which would strain my faith as a reader.)

As I write this post, I’m discovering something interesting: I get really engaged in books that show the heroes (in particular) in a range of emotionally complicated situations (but that’s probably another blog post). SEP definitely deals those out, with difficult families, tenuous relationships, trust issues … you name it.

Perhaps my favorite SEP example is … hmph. It’s tough to isolate one, but I think it’s got to be Heaven, Texas, in which an entire town plays a role as a secondary character. There’s also the hero’s fantastic, widowed mother and the entire staff of the Curl Up and Dye hair salon. Gracie Snow (the heroine) ends up having to contend with all kinds of issues related to Bobby Tom Denton’s status as favorite son, and that means SEP got to really play around with the secondary characters and how they throw roadblocks in the path of, you know, True Love.

So, there you have it. My top picks for relational romances. Other authors who deserve a mention (but haven’t published anything that’s rung my bell in a while): Judith McNaught (try Perfect, a contemporary with one of my all-time favorite heroines) and Julie Garwood (The Secret should start you off well if you like historicals set in Scotland – or even if you don’t).

And, because I am on a serious fantasy and vampire kick right now, when I’m talking about relational, uh, quasi-romance, I simply must recommend all of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld books (start with Bitten).

Finally, for fantasy books with great loving relationships and romance that’s stretched across a trilogy, Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson books (starting with Moon Called) and Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels trilogy (my absolute favorite comfort books ever, starting with Daughter of the Blood) are must-reads, but be warned: They have some seriously dark themes and very graphic violence.

The 2008 Look Ahead from O'Donovan

OK, I was inspired by Nicola's post to look ahead at the forthcoming lists and, wow, it's going to be a fab year in reading, as evidenced by the number of things I just preordered from Amazon.

On my list:

March 4 - Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop. Fantasy, mostly, but anyone who likes the much-discussed Black Dagger books (but would like less tic-filled writing) should read Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books

March 4 - Thigh High by Christina Dodd. I just love Christina Dodd's historicals; her contemporaries tend to be thrillers and not so much fun, but let's give it a shot, eh?

March 28 - Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong. Kelley Armstrong is Canadian and funny and has tough, clever heroines and very satisfyingly modern romances, albeit with werewolves and vampires and demons.

May 27 - The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn. Thanks entirely to her Bridgerton books, Julia Quinn could pied piper me right off of a cliff. I'll buy anything she cares to write (although her pre-Bridgerton books, honestly, aren't crucial to own).

July 29 - Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. Her Mercy Thompson books are tough and sexy and tense and hot, and I have complete faith in her ability to deliver the same sexual tension and great plotting with Charles and Anna. (Although, according to the Briggs blog, this book is a running a little late; good God, I hate it when publishing dates get pushed back.)

June 3 - Lover Enshrined by J.R. Ward. I'm like a crack addict for these books. Crack. Addict.

Dec. 30 (or April?) - Can't Take My Eyes Off of You by Judith McNaught. I'll buy anything Judith McNaught wants to write, but I am crossing my fingers that she is still on top of her game. I fell for her and Jude Deveraux at the same time, and Ms. Deveraux books have really stopped appealing to me, while Ms. McNaught's are still must-haves. I guess we'll see.

OK, that's a long, dry spell between June and December. What am I missing?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bettina Krahn - "The Husband Test"

I could've sworn I had read Bettina Krahn's The Husband Test before. I know I've picked it up in the bookstore, fondled it, read the back cover... and I'm a big Krahn fan, so I have no idea how I missed it. But platitudinal mentioned it in a comment, the seed was planted, and I picked it up at the UBS last week. I figured if I had read it, it was worth a re-read.

Big thumbs up from me, but that's no surprise. The one critique I have for it is that the language is a bit more anachronistic than you might like-- but then, this is a pretty fine line for any historical novel; I mean, any reader knows you can't actually be historically accurate or you'd limit your readership to those fluent in Middle English.

Still, it's a romp, with engaging, human characters; witty dialog; and streak of tenderness a mile wide in both of the protagonists.

What are YOUR favorite re-reads? Which books do you reach for when you want the satisfaction of a known quantity?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Obsessed with JR Ward

OK, I swear, this will be the last JR Ward post for awhile… at least until the next book comes out in June. But you know how when you re-read stuff, you notice different things than you did the first time around? So reading five of them within a couple of days connected some dots for me in a way I didn’t get when I was consuming them the first time through. Some of the themes that arc through multiple books are easier to appreciate the second time around.

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS. Basically, there's nothing here that you wouldn't glean from reading the back covers, but if you're just starting the series, there might be some give-aways.

I’m particularly fascinated by the relationship between Butch and Vishous. It’s a lovely thing to behold, seeds planted and subtly nurtured in quiet but telling scenes through all the books. There is a connection between them that is part brother, part comrade-in-arms, part lover, and yet it is none of these and there is something else there that defies easy definition. I love this scene from the first book after the guys pretty much all go on an old-fashioned bender:

Wrath went upstairs, wondering who’d slept where. He knocked on one of the guest room doors, and Butch answered. The human was drying his hair with a towel. Had another wrapped around his waist.
“You know where V is?” Wrath asked.
“Yeah, he’s shaving.” The cop nodded over his shoulder and stepped aside.
“You need me, boss?” V called out from the bathroom.
Wrath chuckled. “Well, isn’t this cozy.”
The “fuck-off” came from both of them…

Homoerotica is nothing new in vampire literature*; usually it’s a sexualization of the bond between a “senior” vampire and one that he has created or “turned,” with the exchange of blood and the death/rebirth of the new vampire portrayed as a moment of ecstasy. Ward definitely pays homage to this theme, but has her own twist on it, since her vampires don’t “turn” humans.

One of the most poignant moments in V’s character arc occurs in Butch’s book, Lover Revealed, when V accidentally catches sight of Butch making love to Marissa, and it's referred to again as a flashback near the beginning of V's book:

What he’d seen weeks ago and now remembered had been caught by mistake, but he’d macked the scene like a pickpocket anyway, stashing it in his frontal lobe even though it didn’t belong to him.

Weeks ago he’d seen Butch and Marissa…laying together. It had been when the cop was at Havers’s clinic on quarantine. A video camera was set up in the corenr of the hospital room, and V had caught the two of them on a computer monitor: she dressed in a vibrant peach gown, he in a hospital john. They’d been kissing long and hot, their bodies straining for sex. {snip}

It had been beautiful, the two of them together. Nothing like the sex with hard edges V had had all his life. There had been love and intimacy and… kindness.

Although we don’t quite understand why this affects him so deeply until we get his backstory in Lover Unbound, it’s undeniably a pivotal moment for him and there are many emotions at play.

Now that Butch’s story and V’s have been told, and the tension between them largely resolved, I hope we still get to see them interact and watch that relationship mature into still something else. I am truly fascinated. (I know, I said that before.)

O’Donovan notes: You know, until this particular relationship/book, homoerotic imagery in fantasy novels just inspired a big “meh” for me. But there’s something about the tension here – and not just the sexual tension, but the stress-tension on their friendship – that is so evocative of many tense friendships-with-men I have had, and I find it fascinating. Say this for J.R. Ward: Her characters feel real.

What I find especially interesting and curious, though, is that the relationships that have the most intensity (as I read it, anyway) are this fraught one between Butch and V, and the parent-child relationship between Tohr, Wellsie and John, and then between Zsadist and John.

I suspect the strictures of the romance novel format aren’t working in Ward’s favor, in terms of developing a slow burn male-female relationship (although she does a decent job with Z and Bella). I also suspect that I’m reading this from the place where I’m living right now, when friendships and family are trumping romance, and outperforming romantic love on every level. Perhaps because that’s how I’m reading, it makes me wonder where Ward is as she’s writing. Why are her friendships and families so much deeper than her love relationships? Hmm.

Nicola responds: I don’t know that I’d say they’re deeper. They are absolutely more nuanced and layered though. The Wellsie-Tohr-John deal isn’t as affecting, IMO, just because of its brevity, at least so far. Another one with potential is the Bella-Rehv sibling link.

O’Donovan: I think the thing that’s getting me about the Wellsie-Tohr-John thing is that it’s really the only adult/“child” interaction we have in the books.

I would dearly love to see (beyond the snippet we’re granted in the epilogue) how life changes around the frat house mansion once Bella and Zsadist’s daughter is born. I hope vampire babies are just especially good, because – as any parent of small children can attest – it’s basically sleep deprivation central for the first two years or more. Really, would you want your spouse going out and fighting superhuman evil on less than a good day's sleep? OTOH, they have Fritz and Co., and Fritz can fix anything. I used to want a house elf, but now I want a Fritz.

Oh! But all of this reminds me that one thing that I do love about this series is that, because the brothers are so wrapped up in each other’s lives, we continue to see their stories develop after the big reveal of “I love you/let’s get married/happily ever after.” It’s not something we’re often granted in romance novels (Stephanie Laurens being an exception), even in novels with recurring characters.

Nicola responds: Absolutely. I’ve said several times that I thought Wrath’s story was the weakest. Why is that? When I re-read it, I liked it just fine, but what it lacks is that connection and day-to-day interaction between Wrath the other Brothers. As king, he is necessarily somewhat removed from them, and since he took himself out of the fighting roster upon ascending the throne, he added another measure of distance. V and Butch and Rhage, Phury and Zsadist. Each of the other guys has a network and hierarchy of bonds with the others, but Wrath is removed from it. Not sure there’s any getting around that, given the structure of the Brotherhood.

Oh, and I totally want a Fritz. The bottomless money resources are pretty appealing too.


The mythology around the Scribe Virgin’s Chosen is a little muddier for me, though it looks like we should get a little more background on that with Lover Enshrined. I get the sense that the rules of “the other side” are not quite as well-defined as they are for the Brothers, like there’s definitely more making-it-up-as-you-go-along happening. Why “Scribe Virgin”, when she is neither a scribe nor a virgin? (Discuss among yourselves.) The SV is emerging as an actual character, with her involvement in V’s life and the intriguing mention of his twin sister Payne stashed in a closet in suspended animation--and the title of the next book makes me think that maybe she’s the one for Phury). It’s hard to reconcile the warrior’s bonding instinct with the role of the Primale. And why wasn’t Wrath tapped for the job, since he has the purest bloodlines? I know, this was explained, but it still seems wrong to me – a big deal was made of the fact that Wrath is the last full-blooded vampire on earth, and the various characters are always going on and on about how “pure” the blood is from one vamp or another. Ergo, SV probably should’ve chosen someone from Wrath’s line to mate with, doncha think? Sigh. I suppose I’ll have to let that one go.

O’Donovan: Is it wrong that I imagine the SV as the creepy little girl from Poltergeist? I know she’s supposed to be this stunningly lovely woman who glows, but all the veiling and so forth just make me think, eek, creepy stunted child-woman-crone under a sheet. I can’t imagine her developing into a sexual character in this series, but I do like the development of her relationship with Vishous; my jury is still deliberating over the Big Surprise of Payne’s existence. On the other hand, it’s an interesting cat to set among the pigeons.

As far as the “purity of blood” issue goes, I honestly think about hemophilia and royal inbreeding and hybrid vigor and all that stuff when it comes to the Chosen. Let’s have some mongrel blood! It’s a shame that Butch is all spoken for.

Nicola responds: But Butch is of Wrath’s line! Though I guess it’s pretty dilute naturally since he didn’t go through transition on his own. The future of The Chosen has some potential as a story element now that the psycho Directrix has been deposed.

O’Donovan: I guess the whole cloistered nun theme leaves me a little cold, and they just don’t seem very … vampirey … to me. And if they are vampires (as they should be, because they’re (a) SV’s creation and (b) fathered by members of the Brotherhood and by the Chosen) then (c) I want to know what they eat.

Nicola responds: Good points. I’ve been wondering that myself. Maybe the SV has some kind of magic that she works.

While it doesn’t have the elegance of Butch and V’s relationship, I am really enjoying John’s story throughout the books. Once Ward has exhausted her backlog of characters – Rehvenge, Tohr, John, and, I suspect, Dr. Manello-- we can potentially look forward to a new generation of warriors, with Blay and Qhuinn (the detail about his mismatched eyes is intriguing), and probably a few more of their classmates. I figure that Payne and Xhex deserve their own books, but they may end up as mates to one of the males. I’m interested to see where Ward takes us with the world of the symphaths, too.

O’Donovan: I’m waiting (eagerly) to see if the female vampire protagonists (which I think Xhex and Payne are poised to be) will (a) merit their own books that don’t star members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood as the hero and (b) if any of the female characters will ever form bonds that are as interesting as the male characters’ bonds. I also want to know if the Black Dagger Brotherhood will ever include women. (That seems unlikely, somehow, but shouldn’t there be a more equal female group, a strong female group? The Chosen obviously suck at this and, in a society governed by a quasi-goddess, you’d think women and female relationships would be, uh, bigger, stronger, more intense, more impressive.)

I will also be thoroughly bummed if Xhex and John end up together – which will feel like Xhex only “earned” a book as an accessory to John, when she’s pretty interesting in her own right, and ditto for the Payne/Phury connection – although my money’s actually on Payne/Rehvenge or Payne/Manny, because I think Phury’s going to end up with the Chosen from Lover Unbound.

Nicola responds: I think it just gets back to the fact that Ward’s men are a million times more interesting than her women. I suspect if you compared her heroines to any other popular author’s, they’d be fine, but up against these magnificent men, they definitely suffer by comparison.

Xhex doesn't seem right for John, to me -- something about her androgyny and his past kind of bothers me, not that she isn't awesome. And yeah, it would be nice to see the women doing something other than rich-woman-charity-work. I mean, I SO cannot see Xhex planning a solstice ceremony involving a bunch of apples. You feel me, sister?

O’Donovan: Uh, true. My sister. </pulls on shitkickers, goes to fight lessers >

Nicola again: You know what would be cool? I think? Is to follow John’s generation for a century or so and let them fuck around and procreate all over the damn place before they get all crazy-bonded. If we can extrapolate that 200-300 years is about right for the males to mature enough to fall in love, and they’re only 25 when they hit transition, I think it would be kind of inconsistent to have them falling straight into The Brotherhood. Though John is an exception, of course.

O’Donovan: From your lips to J.R. Ward’s editors.

Nicola again: Oooh, or locate another pocket of warrior descendants that have been isolated somewhere else geographically. Because really, 6 guys in the whole wide world? ain’t so many.

O’Donovan:More of J.R. Ward's heroes? Nothing to hate about that.

*I googled up some links to articles about homoeroticism in Dracula, Nosferatu, and Interview With a Vampire, but there's a billion items of varying literary depth, and none stood out as just the right link. If you're interested in that tangent, I trust your google skills are up to it-- there's plenty to choose from.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Independent Bookstores Snub Romance Fans -- Or Do They?

I live in a suburb and work in downtown Seattle. I have a husband, two kids, one of whom plays soccer, I drive an SUV, I make scrapbooks and quilts, I get my grande non-fat vanilla lattes from the drive-through at Starbucks, I eat too much chocolate and don’t exercise enough, and I TiVo All My Children every single weekday.

I am a living, breathing, stereotype.

As it happens, I also have a BS in engineering, an MBA from a top-tier school, and standardized test scores that could get me into Mensa if I were so inclined. (Bear with me, this part becomes relevant later on.)

I usually get my book fix from Borders', because it’s the closest store to me. A bit further afield, I have two Barnes’ & Nobles that I can get to, one of which is open later during the week, so sometimes I meet up with a fellow mom-friend after the kids are in bed. Then too, I try to get to the local UBS once a month or so, more to get rid of books than to get new ones, otherwise I’d drown in them. I have more credit there than I could ever hope to spend.

Now, I get why people are concerned about the corporatizing and franchising and homogenizing of retail book selling. I get why people are passionate about supporting independent bookstores… sort of. The thing is, I love the chains. They have big romance sections, good coffee, cushy chairs, late hours, and the crafty magazines I want. They get the new releases from the authors I love early. And I can take a stack of 7 or 8 romances to the front desk without expecting any eyerolls or dismissive glances.

So the other day, as chronicled below, I was desperately missing JR Ward’s #2 book, Lover Eternal, and coincidentally was meeting a colleague for lunch at the Elliott Bay Bookstore. So hey, it’s worth a try, right? I wander through the general fiction section, spotting Mystery, Sci-Fi, and a little shelf of Horrors, but I can’t find Romance. So, not being the shy type, I ask at the information desk. To give the woman working the desk credit, I get no judgey vibe from her as she apologetically tells me that they don’t really carry any romance. At all. In a store with over 150,000 titles in inventory.

Call me crazy, but this seems a little weird to me. And frankly it pisses me off. Romance is the single largest selling category of any kind of book, according to Publishers’ Weekly. The most recent stats I could find were for 2000:

Romance – 283 million units
Mystery – 187 million
Sci Fi – 53
General fiction – 88

General non-fiction –105
Cooking – 135
Religion – 126

That’s at least twice the volume of every other category except Mystery, which is still 100 million units in the dust. So why on earth would any bookstore opt out of the category entirely? It made no sense to me. The only answer is the kind of anti-romance pseudo-intellectual snobbery that persists in coloring romance readers as big-haired gum-cracking airheads with bright sparkly blue eyeshadow. As if John Grisham or Mercedes Lackey are somehow more highbrow than Nora Roberts or Mary Balogh. You can see where I’m going with this, right?

I had this scathing anti-Elliott’s blog post forming in my head, but I thought maybe it would be a good idea to see what the policy is at similar bookstores (perhaps the better to pummel Elliott’s with). I know Powell’s in Portland has a romance section – I’ve been there. I’ve also been to Strand Books in Manhattan, but to tell you the truth I can’t remember for sure if they have a romance section or not-- though I think I would’ve noticed and remembered if they didn’t.

I emailed 15 independent bookstores around the country. I compiled the list from a 10 Best article, a USA Today article , and by asking a crowd of book-loving friends. Five stores responded back, and all but Prairie Lights in Iowa City do have romance sections. Still, it’s hard to call that a victory with another 10 queries unanswered (including The Strand). However, some insight came from Neil Strandberg at Tattered Cover in Denver, CO:

The word on the street as it has appeared in some surveys is that Romance readers, even though customers of independent book stores, actually - mindfully - choose to obtain their romances at grocery stores or elsewhere. I'm vaguely recalling one responded explaining that she had such a strong relationship with her independent bookseller that she was afraid to buy a romance at that shop.

Yeah, so that took the wind out of my sails. Are we the only readers out there who are embarrassed to be “caught” reading our material of choice? So embarrassed, in fact, that we go out of our way to separate our romance purchases from other book purchases?

Screw that, people. I’m begging of you, grow a spine. That anti-romance snobbery originates with US—I’m pretty sure that the indie bookstores would be happy to sell us anything we’re willing to fork over the green for. Stop hiding the books you love. Meet snide remarks with confidence – do you really think that mysteries or thrillers or sci-fi’s are somehow more literary than romance? Do you really think that reading romance softens your brain? Did you know that, according to RWA:

42% of Romance readers have a bachelor's degree or higher
27% have college degrees
15% have post-graduate work or degrees
7% have associate degrees
17% have attended a trade school or have some college
23% have high school diplomas

AND 22% of romance readers are male. Betcha didn’t see that coming.

It’s up to us, readers, to change that image. Trust me on this: reading romances doesn’t make you stupid. However, pretending that you don’t read them when you do, does make you a hypocrite.

And if you ARE wearing sparkly blue eyeshadow, you might want to rethink.

Particular thanks to the bookstores that responded to my inquiry:
Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City IA
Tattered Cover, Denver Co
Powell's, Portland OR
Title Wave, Anchorage AK
Book People, Austin TX

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rebuttal - JR Ward

You know, I never re-read books. I often mean to, but really, I just... never do. However because 1)I am out of new books to read {sob!} 2) I am out of disposable income for the moment and 3) I am apparently a sheep {baaaa},* I am re-reading the first JR Ward, and possibly the subsequent ones as well.

I'm halfway through it, and yup, it's as good as I remember (and frankly, I thought the first one was about the weakest of the series, but I started there anyway because I'm linear like that). I am a bit struck by how forgettable the women are though. Beth? Bella? OK, whatever, tell me more about Wrath's thighs, plzkaithx.

The "verbal tics," as O'Donovan charmingly refers to Ward's colloquialisms don't bother me at all. Not a bit. Seriously, they're not even noticeable.


So anyway, not a big in-depth review or anything. I like JR Ward. Her heroes are literally and literarily and figuratively larger than life and so, so delicious. I could use a little less of the "old language," which is completely uninteresting when it's not outright annoying, and the life and times of the "lesser" (read: slayer) enemies kind of bores me. I'm always rushing through those parts to get back to the romance.

JR Ward. Yumm. Read it.


*Partially recycled from an email to O'Donovan.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


It's Nicola's fault. At least, I've decided to blame her.

She went and got me hooked on J.R. Ward, who (as I noted in my GoodReads review) drives me up a tree with some of her style indulgences:

Dear Ms. Ward:

Let's talk a little bit about writing tics, and things that make me kind of insane.

Thing 1: Please. Let's not get lazy with our vocabulary. Saying "shitkickers" instead of shoes or boots -- especially when it's in the omniscient narrative voice and not being voiced by a character -- gets extremely tiresome. Very, very, very tiresome.

Thing 2: I kind of get that, since vampires are a different species than humans, you don't want them saying, "Man," to each other. I get it. But "male" feels contrived, and "my brother" gets wearying after a while, too. Can't they just have a conversation without the whole, "No, my brother, blah blah blah"? How 'bout: "No, blah blah blah."

Thing 3: I just don't like a lot of your writing style. It keeps throwing me out of the story because it feels vaguely contrived. Here are these centuries-old vampires and half the time they sound vaguely overly formal (which I guess is appropriate), but the other half of he time, they sound like a bunch of pre-teen gangbanger wannabes. And don't get me started on the self-indulgent tics in the narrative voice, really. "Shitkickers" is just the beginning of it.

So, given the Three Big Peeves, how did I come to find myself devouring your books like a starving woman?

Well. Um. You plot like some kind of evil genius. I'm in love with at least three of your characters. And I couldn't put the damn things down because I wanted to know what happened next. It took me four days to whip through your entire series and now I WANT MORE.

Plus, um, you write a smokin' hot love scene. Just sayin'.

And now I'm rereading the Black Dagger books but I can't find book 3 (Zsadist*/Bella in Lover Awakened) and it's making me nuts. I went on a book-finding mission this week and none (NONE!) of the bookstores in Charlotte have the damn thing. So I ended up with a boatload of other vampire romance novels, which could result in new addictions or (more likely) very snarky reviews.

One last note and then I'm off to do my Saturday thing: Ward has won my loyalty because I am All About Her Heroes. Normally, I'm into the novels because I really dig a heroine and identify with and root for her. This is the first time when I've really (almost exclusively) been engaged with the male characters, the perspective and culture. It doesn't hurt that they're tapping my previously suppressed prediliction for hard-core alpha males who are simultaneously dominant and entirely wrapped up in what's going on with the women in their lives. (Another great example is the straight-fantasy Dark Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop. Sigh.)

* One thing I forgot to mention in my review: How stupid I think the heroes' names are. Really, really stupid. Although I've obviously gotten over it.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Books I'm Looking Forward To in 2008

Just a quick list, by no means inclusive. Just spent a Sunday poking around my favorite authors' websites, is all. Also, too lazy to put in the links. I have faith that you can find them on Amazon or the author's website if you are so inclined.

Catherine Anderson: Morning Light – already out
Lynn Viehl: Evermore – hit the shelves last week.
Mary Balogh: Devil’s Web – already out, and I seem to have missed Irresistible, which came out in October. Hmmm.
Stephanie Laurens: Where the Heart Leads – January 29, 2008
Marjorie Liu: The Last Twilight – January 2008. And a new series starting in June.
Nora Roberts: The Hollow (book 2 in the Sign of Seven Trilogy)– May 2008. This is weird. She's been releasing them a lot closer together in the past few years. Bummer.
JR Ward: Lover Enshrined – June 2008
Jacqueline Carey: Kushiel’s Mercy – Auggggh, not until June.
Christina Dodd: Into the Shadow – not ‘til July, dangit. I really liked the first two.
Jennifer Crusie: You Again – no date. Hmmm, no sign of that guy she’s been co-authoring with either. Interesting.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Apologies in Advance

So, I’m kind of new to blogging. And I’m finding myself completely obsessed with my site statistics. In a shameless bid for more site hits, I recently joined a “swap” strictly for the purpose of finding fun blogs and getting more hits.

Believe it or not, I do have a few other interests outside of romance novels. Swap-bot is kind of a fun way to break out of comfortable habits, check out other crafters and artists, and a good excuse to spend a lot of time in craft stores (and hey, my favorite shopping center has a huge JoAnn’s, a Half-Price Books, a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks. It feeds all of my addictions.)

Anyway, here are a few blogs you might enjoy checking out. They aren’t about romance, but they are about some seriously talented people:

Arm in Snow, Legs in Sea
Paper Kitty
Faccia Bella
Hoola Tallulah
Rogue Knits
The Adventures of Gladys Quimby
The In's and Out's of Missslady
A Fancy Glass
An Inch At A Time

Now, back to romance.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Quickie Sneak Peek: Karen Hawkins

I'm in the middle of Her Master and Commander and enjoying it. I haven't read much of Karen Hawkins, but I think I will be (despite the awful title). So I decided to poke around on her website a little and this link had me cracking up. Check it out.


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