Thursday, January 31, 2008

On the Book Cart

The cart isn’t looking too romantic this week, but the good news is that one of the few romances on it is Sizzle and Burn the new Arcane Society novel from Jayne Ann Krentz. This one falls into both the romantic suspense and paranormal categories; it’s set in modern day Washington State with both hero and heroine displaying paranormal abilities. The two are up against a group of criminals who also have psychic abilities and no hesitation about using them for their own gain. This one looks like a real page turner! I am currently in the middle of the previous contemporary Arcane Society release, White Lies, which has a really likeable cast of characters and a great pace, so I am looking forward to Sizzle and Burn.

Krentz also writes under the names Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Says Krentz, "I am often asked why I use a variety of pen names...The answer is that this way readers always know which of my three worlds they will be entering when they pick up one of my books." The three worlds she refers to are the settings she uses for her series. The novels by Amanda Quick are set in the late Victorian era and feature the early days of the Arcane Society, a paranormal research group. Her contemporary titles are written under her real name, Jayne Ann Krentz, and take place in a variety of settings. Some of these feature the Arcane Society in modern times, and others are straight contemporary romances. As Jayne Castle, she writes stories set in a futuristic world where paranormal abilities are a strong element of the plot. Regardless of series or pseudonym, Krentz always provides resourceful, likeable heroines and enough plot twists to keep you guessing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reading my way through the Regency, one Bridgerton at a time….

I have a confession to make. Well, actually, a couple of confessions. The first is that I like my romance with a touch of comedy. This may be a result of too many viewings of “The Philadelphia Story” at an early age, but no matter the cause, I still prefer a pair of lovers with a well honed sense of the ridiculous to those who take themselves and their budding passion very, very seriously. My second confession is that I am a creature of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. Whether it is a food, a sweater, a favorite chair in my favorite sunny corner of my favorite local coffee shop, or characters in a book, I will return again and again, my enjoyment deepening rather than waning with each successive visit. What can I say? It’s an uncertain world, and I like to spend time on what I know will make me happy. And so, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to meet the Bridgertons, eight siblings each possessed of good looks, good financial prospects, and a good sense of humor. I first made the acquaintance of Hyacinth, the youngest, and enjoyed her story so much that I was delighted to find that author Julia Quinn had written a story for each brother and sister. In my typical obsessive compulsive fashion, I decided I was going to read all of them, in order. After careful study of the family tree, I hunted down and scooted off home with….

The Duke and I
By Julia Quinn
Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings, is a man with an impeccable pedigree, a very large fortune, a way with the ladies, and a very big secret. This secret has been the driving force in his life since he was a toddler. This secret is such that his father would rather tell people that his son is dead than acknowledge it. This secret has compelled Simon to forge through life with grim determination, and has caused him to become a very private, solitary man of few words.
The secret? Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, stutters.
True, he no longer stutters very often, and then only in extremes of emotion, but on occasion, it still happens. “So what’s the big deal?” you might ask, “It’s hardly something shameful, many people do it, and he seems to have pretty much outgrown it.” Well, if your father’s main purpose in life was to produce a healthy heir, and if this same father had decided when you were four years old that you were a simple minded idiot because of a speech impediment, and refused to have anything to do with you or to let anyone mention your existence, it would become a very big deal indeed. In spite of all this, Simon grows up to be an admirable man. He overcomes his stutter, gets a good education, travels, and is considered quite a catch on the marriage mart. But the early damage to his emotions lingers, and he develops a bone deep desire to thwart his father. Since his father’s overriding ambition is to make sure that there is always a healthy male Bassett to assume the title, Simon determines that he will never marry and produce the required heir, and so he sets out to see the world, and when he returns becomes one of London society’s more notorious rakes.
Daphne Bridgerton, on the other hand, has been lovingly raised by a doting family. Her father may have died while she was young, but she never doubts that her parents loved each other, and her mother has never suggested that she marry for any reason other than love. Having been raised with four brothers, Daphne is no shy, retiring flower, nor is she a giggling, vapid debutante with no thought beyond acquiring a titled husband. What she has become is something as close to “one of the guys” as a Regency miss can be. In the eyes of the most appealing bachelors, she is more like a sister or friend. Since Daphne would like nothing better than to fall in love, marry, and have a large family, this becomes something of a problem. In fact, she meets Simon while trying to escape the advances of one of her more pathetic, yet determined, suitors. Their attraction is immediate, but since she is a lady and the sister of one of his oldest friends, Simon considers her strictly untouchable. For her part, Daphne knows she should stay away from a known heartbreaker who has shown no intention of settling down.
If only they could keep their hands off of one another....
The conflict here could seem contrived, but because Quinn has shown us so much of Simon’s painful childhood his determination never to marry seems both believable and understandable. Since Daphne knows very little of his past, and has had such a different upbringing, she is by turns mystified and angered by Simon’s mixed signals. She may be kind and empathetic, but she is also fairly innocent and very determined. The fact that we continue to root for them as they muddle their way toward happily-ever-after is a tribute to how likeable they are. We’ve all been the friend instead of the love interest, and we’ve all had some perceived flaw that made us feel socially awkward, and so we can relate to both Daphne and Simon. The secondary characters are equally believable, and if they are named Bridgerton, likeable as well. Overall, this is an engaging, entertaining story, and I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the family married off.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Romance Reader

So there you are, sitting at home on a snowy weekend, wondering what to read next. So many books, so little time. How to choose? Well, just crank up your computer and go to The Romance Reader, a web site dedicated to unbiased, timely reviews of romance novels. With over 100 reviews a month, you are sure to find something of interest, no matter which subgenre you prefer. The site’s format makes it very user friendly, with several ways to find reviews. Books are evaluated in two ways, with one to five hearts (from “Don’t Bother up through “Definite Keeper”) and with “Sensuality Ratings” comparable to what you find on movies. In addition to reviews, there are author interviews, articles, and many other fun features. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On the Book Cart

Over a dozen new paperback romances are rolling into the collection this week. For contemporary fans, there are two trilogies from Joann Ross. The first is about the Callahan brothers; the titles are Blue Bayou, River Road, and Magnolia Moon, all stories set on the bayous of Louisiana. The second trilogy features the Stewart sisters in stories set in the Great Smoky Mountains: Out of the Mist, Out of the Blue, and Out of the Storm. Karen Harper chooses an unusual setting – Ohio’s Amish country – for her romantic suspense novels Dark Harvest and Dark Angel. Both look like great reads, with the interaction between the Amish and the outside world lending additional tension to the relationship between the protagonists.
Proving there is life after vampires in the paranormal category, Lori Handeland brings us Blue Moon and Hunter’s Moon, stories of werewolves that put a new spin on the standard legends.
And fear not, there are also several historicals to choose from. Gaelen Foley’s heroine stows away on a ship sailing from South America to England in 1818 in His Wicked Kiss. Kat Martin’s Regency “heart” trilogy continues with “Heart of Fire,” and Virginia Henley heads back to the court of Elizabeth I in “Insatiable.”
Looking for a new release? Be sure to check the “New Fiction” shelves for hardcovers from your favorite authors.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Servants are Always the First to Know....

Scandalous Lovers
By Robin Schone

Imagine waking up at 49 and finding yourself a single adult for the first time. What would you do? If you are Frances Hart, you might decide that after 34 years of marriage and three months as a widow, you were going to leave your five adult children and your eight grandchildren and journey to London and “experience a season of entertainment ... and amusement.”

Imagine instead that you are a very successful London barrister, a man who never loses a case, who has always neatly compartmentalized his life, and one day your wife of twenty-four years is killed in a carriage accident, and you realize that you never really knew her.
What would you do? If you are James Whitcox, you might realize that you have never truly known passionate love, that you and your wife had been strangers to each other while living beneath the same roof, and you might, in fact, need desperately to know the answer to a single question:

"What does a woman desire?”

So James asks Frances when she accidently walks into a meeting of the Men and Women’s Club, and her honesty astonishes them both. What ensues is a love affair that is also a voyage of self-discovery. The two had led fairly contented lives until the deaths of their respective spouses cause them to question what they may have been missing. Their search is not without ramifications, however, and every step they take away from their accepted roles ripples out to touch the people around them, and not everyone is pleased.
For a lady to cast off her mourning clothes and leave her home and family to indulge both intellectual and physical curiosity is unheard of; for a gentleman to encourage and abet is equally shocking. The two find unexpected allies in their various housekeepers, butlers, and clerks, who are very much privy to the inner workings of their employers’ lives, but opposition comes from an equally unexpected quarter.

James and Frances may seem like an unlikely hero and heroine for a romance novel, but author Robin Schone is not one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of the genre. She does not write about blushing virgins and dashing nobleman stealing kisses in the moonlight, but instead about the effects of love, lust, and repression in a time when marriages were often the means of forming business and political alliances. Adultery is not a subject treated sympathetically in romance, if it is addressed at all, yet Schone deals with it in a way that lends unexpected depth to two of her secondary characters and allows James to reveal a degree of self-knowledge and honest emotion that makes for one of the most touching scenes in the book. Schone also avoids any euphemistic purple prose when writing a love scene, opting instead for frank portrayals of two experienced adults falling passionately in love. The sex scenes in this book are not simply add-ons for the sake of titillation; they illustrate the emotional development of the characters as they learn about themselves and each other. I found the language a little formal and clinical, but it is appropriate to the characters and the time.

I can honestly say that this book was not what I expected when I picked it up, and at first I found myself skimming. As the story developed, I found myself more engrossed, and realized that what at first had seemed like some throwaway details were important clues in both plot and subplots. By skimming I missed nuance and so I went back and re-read.
I became invested in the characters and was really rooting for them. Schone tells a good love story, using small acts to demonstrate big themes. If you are looking for a quick, light historical, this is not your book; but if you have an interest in Victorian life and times, this tale of mid-life love will be very rewarding.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

February 2008 Romantic Times has arrived!

The new issue of Romantic Times offers a nice cover story on Sherrilyn Kenyon, author of the Dark-Hunter series. The piece includes an excerpt from Dream Chaser, Kenyon’s latest entry into the series. You can also check out RT’s list of the Best Books and Authors of 2007, and see how your favorites fared. Like romantic comedy? Take a look at the special Valentine’s Day feature – one short story penned by eleven different authors, like a game of telephone with a romantic twist. And as always, you will find advice on writing from industry professionals, and 250 book reviews. The new issue is on the shelf in the magazine section, and January’s issue is available to check out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On the Bookcart

This weeks “new book” cart has plenty for romance readers to love. In hardcover, there are two romantic suspense novels, Obsession, from author Karen Robards, and Murder List, by Julie Garwood. In paperback, there are new contemporary titles from Elaine Fox, Deirdre Martin, and Carly Phillips, and historicals from Jacquie D’Alessandro, Sophie Jordan, Sara Bennett, and Laura Lee Guhrke. If you are a fan of paranormals, check out One with the Shadows by Susan Squires. Though I don’t read a lot of paranormals, I am taking home Emma Holly’s Prince of Ice, as well as the historical Scandalous Lovers by Robin Schone.
Be sure to check out the Romance spin rack for new paperback titles, as they don’t get shelved in the new book section with the hardcovers, and if there is an author you are pining to read, please let us know!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jane Austen meets Bridget Jones

The Rules of Gentility
By Janet Mullany

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of fortune and passable good looks amuses herself in London with fashion, philanthropic works, and flirtation, until a suitable gentleman makes an offer. I consider the pursuit of the bonnets and a husband fairly alike – I do not want to acquire an item that will wear out, or bore me after a brief acquaintance, and we must suit each other very well.”

Thus begins the story of Miss Philomena Wellesley-Clegg, a young lady of substantial fortune and respectable (if somewhat plebeian) breeding. Philomena is in London with her family doing what all young ladies of the time do – hunting for a husband. Philly has a keen eye for fashion, and a talent for retrimming a bonnet that would make a milliner green with envy. Alas, our heroine has much better luck finding wonderful bonnets than suitable suitors. Her list of potential husbands includes:

  • Lord Elmhurst, who is the catch of the season, but appears to be exceedingly fond of Lady Caroline Bludge, a young lady of impeccable pedigree and questionable virtue.
  • Viscount Elverton, also a catch, but one who is exceedingly fond of his dogs and horses (pedigrees unknown, but presumed impeccable as well.)
  • Mr. Thomas Darrowby, who is unfortunately penniless, though respectable, and who at least is exceedingly fond of Philomena, who in turn thinks of him as a brother.
  • Lord Aylesworth, who is always stylish, and Carrotte, the Mad Poet, who is incredibly handsome. These two are exceedingly fond of – each other.
And so it goes, until Mr. Inigo Linsley arrives in town. Mr. Linsley is the wicked younger son of a noble family, possessed of modest expectations and tremendous charm. It just so happens that Philomena’s dearest friend is married to Linsley’s older brother, and so the two meet on the doorstep of Linsley’s family home. The meeting results in Philomena deciding that Linsley would really be quite handsome if he shaved and cleaned himself up a bit, and in Linsley deciding that Philomena, though silly, has impeccable taste in stockings.

Can True Love be far behind?

Of course it can’t. But since “the course of true love never did run smooth”
the story evolves into a comedy of manners that would do Oscar Wilde proud.
The plot twists include, in no particular order: a false engagement, a jilted suitor, a former mistress, an overbearing Earl, an illegitimate child, a fortune hunting scoundrel, drugged brandy, a visit by genteel ladies to a “house of ill repute,” and any number of grave misunderstandings. The result is one of the wittiest, most entertaining books I have ever read.

Author Janet Mullany confesses that she started The Rules of Gentility for her own entertainment, basing it loosely on Bridget Jones’s Diary. She was also inspired by Pride and Prejudice’s Lydia Bennett and her bonnets. What emerged was Philomena Wellesley-Clegg, a likeable heroine with a talent for misadventure. Inigo Linsley is the kind of mischievous rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold beloved of women everywhere, and the secondary characters are fully realized and engaging. This gentle spoof sends up both historical romances and chick lit, and fans of either genre will find themselves laughing out loud.

Friday, January 11, 2008

If you are looking for great sources of information about romance novels, there is one website you will want to visit frequently – that of the Romance Writers of America. According to their website, RWA is an organization “dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers.” I find it is a wonderful resource for fans of the genre as well. Not only is there a great list of author websites, there are also lists of new releases by month, information on contests, awards, and conferences, and special sections for readers, booksellers, and librarians. So whether you are an avid romance reader or an aspiring romance writer, you are sure to find something of interest.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Romantic Times at VPL

Romantic Times Book Reviews is one of the new additions to the library’s magazine collection. Each issue contains over 250 book reviews, author news, feature stories about books, authors, and publishing, contests, and fan forums. Although the magazine is predominantly romance oriented, it does include monthly reviews of other types of fiction. Romantic Times is a great way to discover new authors, keep up with your favorite series, or learn more about the craft and business of writing. The current month’s issue will be on the magazine rack; previous months may be checked out. Enjoy!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cabin Fever? Head to South Beach!

Sex and the South Beach Chicas
South Beach Chicas Catch Their Man
by Caridad Pineiro

If you are looking for an escape from the winter doldrums, look no further. Caridad Pineiro’s South Beach chicas will have you planning a trip to Miami to indulge in sun, sand and spicy Cuban food before you’ve turned the last page!

In Sex and the South Beach Chicas, Pineiro introduces us to Tori, Adriana, Sylvia, and Juli. The four women, long time friends, rely on each other for help dealing with love, career, and family issues. Straight-laced Tori believes she has found her Prince Charming, but isn’t quite sure how to break the news to her girlfriends or her parents. Adriana has to confront her feelings for oh-so-handsome Riley, who has been a friend since childhood and who has recently announced his intention to get engaged. Juli, a talented chef and co-owner (with Adriana) of one of South Beach’s hot restaurants, needs to find a way out of her shell and to deal with her mother’s disapproval. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s hot job as an entertainment reporter is leaving her cold, and she is struggling to get a chance to prove herself a serious journalist while fighting her attraction to sexy bad boy Carlos.
Though all of the girls have a story, this book focuses a little more on Tori and Adriana.
Tori has always been the good girl – a high achiever who does what is expected of her.
That is, until her girlfriends convince her to take some risks, and she meets and falls in live with Gil. As the book opens, the two are happily cohabitating (much to her parents dismay) and contemplating *gasp* Marriage! Tori struggles to be true to herself in the face of parental expectation and the possibility of disappointing her friends. In the course of the story, she is forced to examine everything she thought she valued, and make some tough decisions. Of course, having her sexy sweetheart by her side certainly helps. Although Gil is not as finely drawn as the female characters in the book, he does come across as likeable and believable, not just a cardboard cutout playing “the boyfriend.”
Riley, Adriana’s love interest, is about on par with Gil. I could see his appeal, and I like him well enough, but I don’t feel that I really know him. Adriana, on the other hand, is presented in all her Type A glory, complete with overworked PDA. She can run a business and play a great game of beach volleyball, but can she risk losing her old friend Riley by admitting that her feelings for him are more than that of a buddy? The fact that their parents are in business together raises the stakes even more, and like Tori, Adriana must decide which risks are worth taking.

South Beach Chicas Catch Their Man picks up where the first book left off, this time focusing more on Sylvia. In a nice addition to the story, Pineiro brings in Sylvia’s mother, Virginia. Virginia is 47, successful, sexy, and single. Moreover, she feels that the way she handled her relationship with Sylvia’s father has led to her daughter’s lack of trust in men. So while Sylvia fights her growing attraction to Carlos, her hero from the last book, Virginia tries to find some kind of closure with Pablo, her first love and the man she has never truly gotten over. The dynamic among the three adds some humorous moments to the story, as Sylvia must come to terms with her mother having a love life.
She also has to learn to trust, not only in Carlos but in her mother’s judgement and her father’s sincerity. This is no small feat for a woman whose relationship philosophy can be summed up in three words: Men are dogs.

Overall, the author does a nice job of weaving the girls’ stories together without losing momentum, and gives enough detail of their day to day lives that their concerns became very real and understandable to me. They shop and worry and bicker like thirty-something girlfriends everywhere, struggling to maintain a work/love/friendship balance.
Pineiro also does a great job conveying the atmosphere of South Beach without getting bogged down in an excruciating amount of detail. I like to be able to picture the place where a story is set, so if I’ve never been there I appreciate a nice amount of background smoothly integrated into the story; I don’t want to feel like I am navigating through the verbal equivalent of MapQuest. As the chicas went swinging through the streets of South Beach, I was able to follow right along, appreciating the weather and the scenery. I also found that the author’s use of Spanish words and phrases did a lot to convey personality and atmosphere. Even though I don’t speak Spanish, I was easily able to understand everything from context. (Let’s face it – a fight with your mother about your boyfriend runs along some pretty standard lines; we can all probably supply the dialogue from memory.) So even though most of the reviews I read of these books lump them into the category “Latina romance” I would say they are stories of friendship and romance that happen to have Latina heroines. The characters’ ethnicity has a definite effect on their careers and on how they deal with parental expectations, but the overall themes are universal, making these books a good choice for general readers of chick lit and contemporary romance.
And if, like me, you live in upstate New York, they are a far cheaper way to escape winter than buying a plane ticket to Miami.....

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

(Relatively) New Nora

High Noon by Nora Roberts
Angels Fall by Nora Roberts
Unabridged audio read by Joyce Bean

Even during the stretches when I was not reading a lot of romances, I would always pick up the latest Nora Roberts. Her characters are multi-dimensional and gifted with a sense of humor, which is always nice, and her heroines usually have interesting professions. Roberts was a groundbreaker in that regard – even when she was still writing category romances she didn’t limit her main characters to traditional “female” professions.
Phoebe MacNamara, the heroine of High Noon, is no exception. After spending a few years with the FBI, Phoebe joins the Savannah PD and becomes their chief hostage negotiator. Phoebe’s choice of profession is no accident; one of the defining experiences of her childhood was being held hostage in her home by an abusive man who had dated her mother.
Fast forward about twenty-five years: now Lieutenant MacNamara has a seven year old daughter of her own, and is the primary support for her agoraphobic mother. She juggles her high stress job and her family responsibilities with aplomb, but has a little more trouble handling the attentions of handsome Duncan Swift. The entrepeneurial Duncan is impressed by Phoebe’s skills as a negotiator and by her take charge attitude. Although Duncan has all the characteristics of the protective alpha male, he is secure enough (or evolved enough?) to give Phoebe the space she needs to handle her own problems. This is a nice twist on the typical “woman in jeopardy” storyline; Phoebe doesn’t need to be rescued or protected in any physical sense, she needs emotional support and the opportunity to develop trust. Make no mistake – there is plenty of physical danger surrounding Phoebe, and she is at one point physically attacked, but it is the psychological tension that makes this book a real page turner.
Roberts does a nice job of balancing romance with suspense in this book. She gives us occasional glimpses inside the mind of the mysterious person who is following Phoebe,
creating a creepy, threatening atmosphere in which we are constantly waiting for the figurative ax to fall. The danger begins to escalate as Phoebe and Duncan’s relationship grows more serious, thus upping the ante for everyone involved.
This is a solid, enjoyable entry into Roberts’ romantic suspense line-up. The chemistry between the hero and heroine is good and the obstacles to their relationship are believable. The secondary characters are vivid without taking over the story; the good guys are people you’d like to hang out with and the villains are suitably villainous. There are a few instances of graphic violence in parts; given Phoebe’s profession this is hardly unexpected and they do serve to move the story along.

By contrast, in Roberts’ Angels Fall the majority of the violence has taken place before the book begins. Heroine Reece Gilmore is the lone survivor of a spree killing that left more than a dozen friends and co-workers dead. As the story opens we meet Reece as she is coasting into Angels Fist, Wyoming with an overheating car and $243 and some cents to her name. She has been on the move across country for nearly a year, trying to leave behind the bad dreams and panic attacks that have followed her since the killings. Now that the rough edges are beginning to smooth out, Reece decides to settle down for a bit, earn the cash to fix her car, and see what happens.
What happens is that Reece witnesses a murder. Unfortunately, she is the only one who does, and by the time the local sheriff gets to the scene, there is no trace of anyone having been there. Enter tall, dark and handsome Brody, the first person Reece ran into while going for help after watching a woman get strangled in the wilderness. Brody believes Reece’s story, but he is in the minority. After all, she’s new in town and known to be jittery. According to the good people of Angels Fist, she’s likely imagining things or could even be making it up. Reece, however, is determined to prove she is neither a nutcase nor a liar, and so she persists in trying to find proof of the crime. As she follows the trail, strange things start happening – items in her apartment start rearranging themselves, for example. Reece struggles to maintain her belief in her own sanity, but with Brody’s help, she sticks to her guns and tracks down the killer.
Roberts does a pretty fair job of portraying panic attacks and the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but I couldn’t help becoming impatient with Reece and her continuing fits of the vapors. On more than one occasion I found myself saying “Oh come on, sugar, enough with the Nervous Nellie routine; get a grip!” Part of my problem may have been the fact that I was listening to the audiobook, and didn’t have the option of skimming when I got frustrated, but I still felt that Reece should have trusted herself a little more.
Overall, the author created a fairly suspenseful tale. I enjoyed the details of Reece’s profession, and could easily envision the setting. I wasn’t that enamored of Brody (no last name that I could find) but I liked him, as well as the secondary characters, well enough to keep listening. Actress Joyce Bean, who reads the entire novel, did a nice job with all the different voices and managed to convey Reece’s feelings extremely well.
If you’ve only got time for one of these books, go with High Noon. If you are a Roberts fan or just want to spend a few cold winter days enjoying some romantic suspense, pick up either or both.

A Little Romance comes to VPL!

Welcome to PassionPostings, the Voorheesville Public Library’s blog for readers of romance novels and general fans of all things “happily ever after.” You can expect to find reviews of all kinds of items in the collection – books, audio books, music, and movies – anything romantic is fair game. We will keep you up to date on what’s new, and pull out some of our older treasures that you may have missed or forgotten about. Though I will be the most regular blogger, expect to see guest postings from other librarians and staff members. I will also be starting a Blogroll and author website lists, and will update them whenever I come across something I think will be of interest. And of course, reviews, recommendations, and comments are always welcome!