Romance novel notes from 2008

There were the 3 Georgian historicals I liked, but thought were fairly flawed and Almost A Gentleman, the one erotic Georgian I couldn’t finish. I did, however, really enjoy The Bookseller’s Daughter and The Slightest Provocation, so I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt no matter what.

Then there are the ones on the sidebar to the right, some of which are romance.
Under My Skin by Jenny Gilliam, which I liked enough that I only stopped reading when I had to tend to various obligations, like Tax Deductions 1 and 2. And congrats to her for its sale to Amira! (A little late on that congrats, Jenny. Mea culpa.)
Catch Of The Day
by Kristan Higgins, which made me bawl and laugh and cringe in vicarious embarrassment, which was only cute/sweet because it wasn’t happening to me. Also, her Just One Of The Guys, which was good but not as heartwrenching as Catch of the Day. Her first effort, Fools Rush In (which I actually read in 2009, sorry!), I found at a thrift store for a quarter and damme if that wasn’t a bargain! All 3 books are written in first person, though Catch of the Day and Just One of the Guys are in present tense (I like!) and Fools Rush In was in past tense. (I crack myself up.) You must have a box of Kleenex for these books. I remember this author’s name. For me, that’s like saying her books are auto-buy and lo and behold! She’s got a new title, Too Good To Be True. Honestly, I think she’s more what people call “women’s fiction” because she seems to focus more on the heroine’s journey than the romance. Word of warning: Don’t glom this author.

Eva Gale’s short stories “Desperate Measures” and “Scorpion’s Orchid” (post-apoc/steampunk). Loved both, though not crazy about short story format (that’s my own failing); the short form worked better in “Scorpion’s Orchid.” And, oh, you must, must, must, must, MUST go catch Eva’s free reads. “The Seduction of Gabriel Stewart” was wonderful and part of what I want to read, as both a spiritual and sexual woman: a smooth meld of the erotic and the faithful.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Natural Born Charmer. Of course I read it straight through, but SEP’s losing her grip on me, I think. Not sure why because she’s got a book on my keeper shelf and in this one, though the heroine was an artist, she wasn’t flighty and she was quick to catch on to what was going on around her, so I was good with that.

Patti Shenberger’s The Captain’s Wench. I’m a sucker for seamen (heh) stories, but this story suffered from some logical fallacies like the fact that the heroine just accepted the strange man in her house was a ghost and bantered with him as if he were an old friend. Like there’s really nothing strange about that situation at all. It was a short story/novella, so it could’ve been a word length requirement problem.

I read The Dragon Earl, which I really enjoyed. The first chapter on the author’s website got me enough that I remembered it when I saw it at Wal-Mart.

Forbidden Shores didn’t impress me. I never felt like any of the characters actually loved each other and that the HEA (happily ever after) was forced.

The following has spoilers. Highlight the blank spaces to read.

51opq4gipvl_ss500_Last but not least, this: A Mermaid’s Kiss by Joey W. Hill. I don’t know what to say about this because I’m conflicted in so many directions, yet it’s stuck with me ever since I read it. I hesitate to do a review on it, but here I am 3 months later, still thinking about it. It’s supposed to be erotic. It’s not. The reasoning for the sex between the hero and heroine is flimsy at best, though I wasn’t any more put off by the more, ah, unusual aspects of it than I was by any of the other sex scenes, none of which were necessary to the story. (The hero and heroine have sex with her in mermaid form and her in pixie form.) I also didn’t like the fact that the heroine had so many configurations (mermaid, pixie, human). The sex just…annoyed me. Why? Because I thought this was a terribly spiritual book with underpinnings of faith (some amalgam of Christianity and goddess mythos) and a keen insight on human behavior. In a lot of ways, its underlying theme reminded me of Dogma, although in a gut-wrenching way and not a satiric way. The sex got in the way of the character development (and worldbuilding) and pulled me out the story every single time. And it wasn’t even good sex.

It took me a while to write this post and 2008 was a busy year, but the ones I forgot must not have made an impact on me.


I’ve had something rolling around in my head for a while since Dear Author asked, “What’s wrong with a C Review?” More recently, a discussion at Racy Romance Reviews involving a book I must get expanded on the conversation at Dear Author (I have a sneaking suspicion RfP and I are on the same wavelength with regard to this).

To clarify: C means neither good nor bad, but average.

To me, an average book = meh = forgettable. In my opinion, if a book is forgettable, it didn’t finish the job it started. What I haven’t figured out yet is if a book is so bad it’s not possible to forget, did it do its job?

I’m trying to distill this out for myself, but I’m reading a lot of books lately that are meh. In fact, they are so meh I forget I was reading them the minute I turn my ebook reader off to tend to other things. As I said on the Dear Author thread, I found a dozen books by bestselling authors that I didn’t remember buying and, worse, that I didn’t remember reading until I scanned the blurbs. Mind you, these are books that got high marks at Dear Author and Smart Bitches (I know, ’cause I went back and looked).

Now we have DocTurtle reading a Harlequin Blaze as a challenge by Smart Bitches to read a “real romance” and see how wonderful it is. Turns out he’s having fun, but not of the type everyone expected. He seems to read in fits and starts, so obviously it’s not keeping his eyeballs glued to the pages, unless that’s the type of reader he is, which I don’t know.

So what is this meh? Where’s it coming from? One of the last non-meh books I read was Ann’s because it was so damned different. What made it different?

I’ll tell you what made it different. She broke all the “rules.” Somewhere, somehow, with the evolution of RWA and its sister organizations and their writing workshops, easier access to agents and editors, more stringent-yet-vague criteria on how to write a query letter, and more propagation of some writing “rules” (the ones that would get you a D in any college creative writing course–ask me how I know), there’s been some weird homogenization. (And I started noticing this really begin to gather steam in the early ’90s.) Yeah, you can have unique plot devices or tried-and-true plot devices done differently, but essentially, the voice has become the same: same meter, same literalness (thanks, RfP) to supposedly make for clarity, and same explanation of things that I (Random Reader with a modicum of intelligence) don’t have to be told and would have rather inferred or been left wondering.

Tired, y’all. I’m tired of reading the same stuff over and over again. Even the stuff I’m getting mad at and simply not finishing–one reason is because the voice is tired on top of other problems. Everybody’s taking voice lessons from the same singing teacher out of the same songbook. The only reason I remember any of these books is to say, “Oh. That.” And off it goes to be archived on CD or in the box to take to the used bookstore–without finishing. One book I’ve been looking forward to reading and bought on its release date (because I had it on my calendar as a reminder) was a real let-down.

This “write from the heart and you’ll get sold if you try hard enough” cheerleading? Bullshit. Don’t write from the heart; write from the rules. Write what the gatekeepers tell you to write and, more importantly, how they tell you to write it. Obviously, lots of people love it, and I am the High Priestess of Capitalism, so I’m not arguing with an established market.

But…if everyone’s following the rules, how do you know the reading public wouldn’t like what you wrote from the heart? I know how you know. The gatekeepers won’t buy it because why mess with the homogeneity of voice? People like it; people buy it. [Insert philosophical plug for doing things independently, but that’s not what this post is about.]

Nothing, but nothing, makes me realize how homogenized the romance voice has become until I read something different. Kristan Higgins’s books were different and I enjoyed them muchly (although I heard some whisperings they weren’t romance so much as women’s fiction/chick lit and honestly I don’t know what the hell difference it makes). Ann’s, of course. Laura Kinsale, always.  Eva Gale, who came here as a poster (never heard of her before that), whose voice (albeit short pieces) just pushes all my right buttons (not talking about the erotic aspect, either).

Remember, I’m not talking about archetypes, plots, and themes. I’m talking about rhythm, word choice (e.g., the obsessing over avoiding “be” verbs and adverbs that spawns ridiculously tedious prose), dialog tags, over-explanation, and, yes, punctuation, which is one of the biggest tools in keeping your rhythm and singing in your own voice.

RfP said it best over at Racy Romance Reviews:

My most frequent complaint lately is that genre romance has no voice: it’s overly literal and can over-explain mundane detail to the detriment of style. Some of my favorite novels include more impressionistic passages in which I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but they’re wonderfully referential and evocative.

I mean, come on. If I’ve noticed it and other people have noticed it enough to remark upon it and complain about it (and we’re only a fraction of a percent of the reading public), maybe there are a lot more people tired of it than the gatekeepers think.

Book Review: Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman

Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman
(A Story of Sex, Porn, and Postum in the Land of Zion)
by JulieAnn Henneman
published by Draumr Publishing

This book was mentioned to me as something different (especially as regards Mormon characters), so I went a-seeking. And boy, did I get.

Corinne Young is having an affair with her dentist. Kinda. Sorta. She’s not sure why, but there’s gotta be a reason, right? Her husband, Brent, holes himself up in his office with his computer all night long, working on the software training company he built. And then, well, all hell breaks loose. It doesn’t take long to understand why Corinne’s diddling the dentist, even if it takes her longer than the reader to figure it out. (Because, well, what does “husband holed up in his office with his computer all night long” say to you? Okay, after much thought, it occurred to me he could have been gaming.)

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