Friday, February 29, 2008

Crossing Genres: Mystery and Romance

I have always loved mysteries, particularly those with a scary, otherworldly feel. And as far as romances go, I started off reading Phyllis A. Whitney when I was young, and still tend to gravitate to those that have a gothic element. Deanna Raybourn’s books Silent in the Grave and its follow-up, Silent in the Sanctuary, combine the best of both. Silent in the Grave also begins with what may be my all time favorite opening paragraph:

“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor at the time.”

Whether mystery or romance, it’s hard to go wrong with an introduction like that.
The book’s heroine, Lady Julia Grey, is a young matron in Victorian London. Before the first chapter ends, she is a young widow, her husband Edward having died after collapsing at a dinner party in the couples’ home. “The curse of the Greys,” says the family doctor, referring to a family history of early death due to heart trouble. Relatives and friends agree; Edward’s death was tragic, but not surprising. Only Nicholas Brisbane has another theory – murder, cleverly disguised.

Lady Julia takes some convincing. Brisbane, a private inquiry agent, reveals that Edward had hired him to look into threats against his life. Julia is not convinced. She sends Brisbane on his way, and puts the subject out of her mind until months later, when she comes across evidence that her husband was, in fact, threatened and then murdered. At this point she joins forces with Brisbane, and the two work to reveal the truth about Edward’s death.

Raybourn does a great job of throwing a lot into this story without ever taking it over the top. She takes some of the standard Gothic novel elements – the dark, sexy, potentially dangerous love interest, the Gypsy fortune teller, the invalid relative – and combines them with the antics of Julia’s large, eccentric family and some interesting historical detail. The result is a book that is suspenseful and at times funny. I found it thoroughly entertaining, and snapped up the sequel as soon as it arrived at the library.

Silent in the Sanctuary did not disappoint. Lady Julia is in Italy with her brothers, recovering from her adventures uncovering her husband’s killer, when they receive a letter from their father ordering them home in time for Christmas. They all return to their ancestral home, Bellmont Abbey, for the holidays. The family and their guests have barely settled in when the body of a local curate is found in the Abbey’s deconsecrated church. The murderer is clearly someone in residence, and Julia is determined to find the killer. Conveniently, Nicholas Brisbane is among her father’s guests and the two join forces once again. The plot is twisty, Julia’s family is still wildly eccentric, and the chemistry between Julia and Nicholas continues to bring the two closer together. All in all, another well told tale with the same combination of elements I loved in the first book. Though the mystery dominates, these books will also be enjoyed by readers of historical fiction and romance, and I will continue to recommend them to patrons while I eagerly await the next installment.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On the Book Cart

“It’s not you, it’s me,” are not the words a girl wants to hear just before the dessert course (or ever, for that matter, but especially not before being fortified with chocolate) but that’s essentially what happens to Gabby Pearson at the opening of HelenKay Dimon’s Right Here, Right Now. This contemporary romance has elements of suspense and humor as well, and looks like a lot of fun. Christina Dodd has a new contemporary out; Thigh High is set in New Orleans, and features a number of eccentric characters, mistaken identities, and all the excitement of Mardi Gras. Cherry Adair has expanded The Mercenary, the original story that introduced us to the sexy bad boys of T-Flac. Falling into both the paranormal and historical categories is Noelle Mack’s Wild: The Pack of St. James. Set in London in 1815, this one features three brothers who have sworn to defend the English crown. Although their powers of seduction are legendary, few suspect that part of their animal appeal comes from the fact that they are actually descended from Russian wolves. Hmm, hard to account for that in the family tree....
Last but not least, we have a great entry from the Young Adult collection. First Kiss (Then Tell) is a collection of true stories from twenty authors detailing all the romance, tenderness, awkwardness, and humor attendant upon their very first kisses. This one is fun even if your teen years are a distant memory.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So Bad I Couldn’t Put It Down…..

Shadow Dance

by Julie Garwood

According to the cover of Shadow Dance, Julie Garwood is a “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author.”
What I’d like to know is – why?
Granted, Shadow Dance is the first and only Garwood novel I have ever read, but it’s certainly not inspiring me to ever pick up another. The basic premise is that heroine Jordan Buchanan, a high tech entrepreneur who has just sold her start-up computer company for zillions, is at loose ends. Jordan, who has always been the stereotypical smart, organized, well-behaved good girl, is busy being a smart, organized, well-behaved bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding when a Mysterious Stranger shows up. The Mysterious Stranger, one Professor Horace McKenna, is crashing the wedding in the hopes of talking to Jordan’s sister Isabel about some family history. He has been corresponding with Isabel about the centuries long McKenna-Buchanan family feud, which involves much bloodshed and a lost treasure, and wants to go over some of the finer points of his research. Why he needed to travel half way across the country to do it is never explained (though I admit I might have missed it since I spent so much of this book rolling my eyes.) His visit does give him the opportunity to explain a great deal of family history to Jordan, in spite of the fact that she is one of the evil Buchanans. He goes on at length about the various awful things the Buchanans have done to the McKennas over the centuries. Great length. Page after page. It’s riveting. Really.
So after listening to the professor rave, Jordan decides he is a bit of a crank and that his version of history is definitely skewed. In spite of this, she decides she needs to do some research of her own to prove him wrong. Because, as we all know, arguing with crazy people is so productive. She then compounds one incredibly stupid decision with another by deciding she is going to go to Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas to review Professor McKenna’s notes. What prompts this is the fact that her brother’s gorgeous friend Noah teases her about being boring. Noah, of course, is the hero, and he is actually pretty likeable. It’s too bad that he completely disappears for nearly a hundred pages, especially since he takes Jordan so much less seriously than she takes herself. He goes back to doing his FBI thing and charming legions of women, while Jordan goes off to Texas. Unfortunately, we go with her. We then have the pleasure of watching her do more really stupid things while meeting an entire cast of Southern stereotypes. There’s the Waitress-with-a-Heart-of-Gold, the Helpful-Young-Secretary, and the Kindly-Lady-Who-Runs-the-Inn. Yessirreebob, all of them are such stock characters that you can bet the farm these gals are wearin’ blue eye shadow and have a bad case of Texas Big Hair! The men are even worse, running the gamut from "Aw-shucks-ma’am" good guys to Really Revolting Redneck. Please. Finally, Jordan finds a body in the trunk of her car, Noah comes to her rescue, and the action picks up a bit. This makes the second half of the book marginally less painful than the first. More bodies are found, nefarious plots are revealed, Jordan realizes she is actually in love with Noah, and decides never to let him know, and after a few more ridiculous plot twists, Noah decides he is in love with Jordan. Eventually, they declare their undying devotion and live happily ever after.
The problems with this book are legion. Jordan is supposed to be some kind of computer genius and shrewd business woman, and yet she makes bad decision after bad decision. The character is just too inconsistent to make any kind of sense. Noah is a fairly straightforward charming alpha male, but the fact that he falls for Jordan because she acts like such a spunky gal is a bit of a stretch. There is really not much action until a third of the way through the book, and the lack of suspense is glaring. What should be a slow building of tension as the bodies pile up is more series of action scenes glued together by splotches of local color. We are occasionally given glimpses of the nameless “master criminal” behind all the murders, but instead of creating a sense of lurking menace they just seem as though they are stuck in to explain a few things so that the ending won’t seem so contrived. There is a whole lot of explaining in a plot that requires action. The “show, don’t tell” mantra of romantic suspense writing has been completely ignored.
Overall, if I hadn’t been planning to write this up for the blog, I wouldn’t have finished it. Given how popular Julie Garwood is, I was hoping for more and was badly disappointed. Maybe someday I’ll give another of her books a try – if I’m really desperate. Meanwhile, if your "To be read" list is getting out of hand, go ahead and skip this one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Secrets and Lies: The Harlequin Romance Report 2008

The theme of this year’s Harlequin Romance Report is “Confessions.” According to the report’s editors, “Although sometimes shocking and unexpected, confessions can also be extremely romantic and positive, bringing us closer to the people we love by … allowing them to see a side of us we don’t often share.” Based on the results of an online survey taken last fall by people worldwide, the report covers everything from social lies to truth in dating. Harlequin even set up a forum where people could anonymously ‘fess up to all sorts of things. Everybody has a secret – see how many people share yours. Of course, you may be as honest as they come, in which case it’s time to see how the other half lives.
And by the way – those pants absolutely do not make you look fat….

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Voices and Visions from Jayne Ann Krentz

Sizzle and Burn
By Jayne Ann Krentz

The second of the contemporary Arcane Society novels, Sizzle and Burn gets off to a marvelously creepy start. We meet heroine Raine Tallentyre as she walks through an old empty house on a dark and stormy day. It was Raine’s aunt who owned the house, and Aunt Vella, who claimed to hear voices, was considered to be a crazy lady by the town residents. Vella spent the last year of her life in a psychiatric hospital, and Raine is in town to deal with her estate. Like her aunt, Raine is clairaudient – she picks up traces of psychic energy that manifest as voices in her head. This is not a tidbit of information that Raine normally shares, so when she hears echoes of a disturbed mind whispering “Burn, witch, burn” as she walks through the house, she decides not to inform the real estate agent accompanying her. Instead, she follows the traces to the basement, where she finds a shiny new padlock on an old storage locker. Presuming the worst, Raine dials 911 to report finding a body. The policeman who responds is a little skeptical – after all, Raine has not actually found a body – yet. But when he opens the locker, there is indeed a woman inside, bound and gagged. The good news is that she is still alive; the bad news is that she was very nearly the next victim of a local serial murderer known as the Bonfire Killer.

While Raine is dealing with skeptical law enforcement, Arcane Society member and PI Zack Jones arrives in town. It seems that on the day Raine’s Aunt Vella died, a high level Arcane Society researcher disappeared from the same town. If the Society’s suspicians are correct, this researcher was working on the same type of psychotropic drug that Raine’s father was investigating at the time of his death decades before. The drug is a version of something called the Founder’s Formula, and has the ability to enhance paranormal talents to a frightening degree. Judson Tallentyre was drummed out of the Society because of his forbidden research, and had his lab burned to the ground. He died under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter, and it was assumed that no trace of his research survived. His sister Vella took Raine and avoided all contact with the Society, whom she suspected of murdering her brother. Now it looks like someone believes Judson Tallentyre’s research notes still exist, and the only link left is Raine. Now Zack has to determine if a rogue group of people with paranormal abilities are trying to find the Tallentyre notes, and what, if anything, Raine and the serial killer have to do with it. Given her history, Raine is not inclined to help the Arcane Society, but she does want information about her family history and her abilities. Like Zack, she suspects her aunt’s death wasn’t from natural causes, and so the two strike a bargain – she helps him figure out what happened to the researcher, and he helps her find out if her aunt truly died of natural causes. Sounds good – until the serial killer targets Raine, and the bad guys Zack is after decide he needs to be eliminated as well. The action heats up and so does the chemistry between Zack and Raine. Each has emotional baggage from past relationships, but the attraction between them is strong and the constant danger they face cements the bond. Zack understands Raine as few other men can; where she hears voices, he sees visions, and so is unfazed by her psychic ability.

There is a lot going on in this story, but Krentz keeps things moving along. The plot twists and turns come fast and furious, keeping you guessing until the end. The interaction between Raine and Zack is believable enough as the string of near death experiences forces them to open up emotionally at a quick pace. Add in lots of sexual tension and genuinely likeable characters, and you have a very satisfying love story. Though most loose ends are tied up by the end of the book, there are one or two left dangling, making it clear that a certain lurking menace will need to be dealt with in upcoming novels. Overall, this is a real page turner, and I am looking forward to reading the next installments.

Friday, February 15, 2008

March Romantic Times now on the shelf

The new RT features a cover story on Celeste Bradley and her new Heiress Brides trilogy. The premise is that three cousins, girls from respectable merchant class families, are competing to see who can be the first to marry a duke. Each book is based on a different fairy tale, and they will be released in March, April, and May. The library has ordered all of them, so check the catalog to reserve your copy. Other feature stories include a discussion of thrillers set in hospitals, and movie versions that do or don’t stack up to the books they are based on. You will also find an update on the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in April. Author spotlights include HelenKay Dimon, Karen White, Gemma Halliday and Joan Johnston. As always, there are reader columns in the Fan Forum section, and 250 book reviews. If you find something you’d like to read and it’s not on the shelf, stop by the Reference Desk and ask. We are always happy to find you a book!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On the Book Cart

The spies have it on the new book cart this week, with several historical romances that feature experts in espionage. The library already owned half of Celeste Bradley’s Royal FourOne Night with a Spy and Surrender to a Wicked Spy – and we have now filled in the quartet with Seducing the Spy and To Wed a Scandalous Spy. Each book features one of four elite spies who answer only to the king and lead double lives in order to cover their clandestine activities. These books include a lot of intrigue as well as romance.
Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady features Annique Villiers, one of France’s most elusive espionage agents, as she matches wits with British master spy Robert Grey. The two are forced to form an unlikely partnership while escaping from France to England, both bent on using the same information to further their very different causes.
Lauren Willig’s The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is out in hardcover. This is the fourth in her series about England’s espionage during the Napoleonic Wars. All feature spies with floral code names, and include a romantic element along with the intrigue. The library owns all of the previous books, so if you like this one, you can go back and read the rest.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lawyers in Love

Seduce Me
By Carly Phillips

This contemporary is a reissue of Phillips’ 2001 Harlequin Romance Erotic Invitation. It’s a fairly typical “devastatingly handsome alpha male discovers smart, sexy heroine beneath bun and glasses” story, but the author has created enjoyable characters with enough depth to give this book a little more substance than a standard category romance.

Brainy Mallory Sinclair is determined to make partner at her prestigious law firm, a bastion of “old boy” clubishness. To that end, she adopts the bun, glasses, and boxy suits that hide as much of her femininity as possible, and is all business, all the time when at the office. However, she secretly lusts over Jack “The Terminator” Latham, the firm’s top divorce attorney, who specializes in terminating marriages with the most favorable financial outcome for his clients. Having grown up watching his parents’ highly dysfunctional marriage, Jack holds no illusions about true love and has no desire to settle down – ever. Every female employee in the firm harbors the belief that all it would take to change his mind is the right woman, and that she is that woman. The only one who doesn’t believe she will be the one to turn his head is Mallory. It seems she has spent her life being not quite good enough for her parents, and thus has a pretty low opinion of her own self worth. And so, her unrequited lust for Jack would have remained just that, if it weren’t for The Really Important Client.

The Really Important Client, one Paul Lederman, has quite a few businesses to manage and one wife that he would like to be rid of. He has summoned Jack to his resort to determine whether or not he wants to retain him as his divorce lawyer. Knowing other firms would love to get Lederman’s business, and that having a woman on the team would be advantageous, Jack and the other partners decide to send Mallory along with him. And so off they go to the resort and proximity makes Jack start to wonder what Mallory would be like if she ever let her hair down, literally and figuratively. When the Ice Queen refuses to thaw, however, Jack makes the mistake of referring to her as “frigid.” Never one to refuse a challenge, Mallory decides to prove him wrong. What starts out as hot flirtation leads to romantic feelings on both sides, but the two have to struggle to get past their emotional baggage in order to make the relationship work.

Jack and Mallory are both likeable characters with believable issues. Mallory’s about face from uptight and insecure to brazen seductress was a little too sudden to ring true, but the teasing cat and mouse game she and Jack play is fun and allows for a gradual, steady increase in emotional and sexual tension. Also, Jack does a pretty quick turnaround from bachelor-about-town to Mr. Ready-to-Settle-Down. I think in a longer book the characters’ changes of heart wouldn’t seem so abrupt and would therefore be more believable. The chauvinism Mallory encounters at work also seems a little contrived, even for a stuffy law firm; the feeling was a little too 1980 for a current romance. These quibbles aside, Seduce Me is a fun, quick read. While it will never make my list of all time favorites, it was good enough that I would be willing to pick up one of the author’s newer, longer releases.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Romantic Double Feature

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Sometimes the “To Be Read” pile doesn’t hold any appeal, and you just want to park yourself in front of the TV. Rather than torture yourself with the very thin selection of shows left by the Hollywood writers’ strike, pop in a DVD. Two of my favorite romantic movies feature the same couple at two different points in their lives. In Before Sunrise we meet Jesse and Celine, two college students on a train to Venice. Jesse is an American who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend and has spent the last six weeks traveling around Europe. Celine is a young French woman on her way back to Paris and her university studies after a visit with her grandmother. The two strike up a conversation and soon Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna, where he is to catch a flight home the next morning. Since he doesn’t have enough money for a hotel, he plans to just spend the night walking around the city and seeing the sights. Celine agrees to join in the adventure, and the rest of the movie follows their perambulations around Vienna as romance blossoms between them. As the sun rises, Jesse leaves Celine at the train station, and the two vow to meet again in six months. As the train rolls out of the station, and Jesse heads to the airport, we are left to wonder if these two ever do manage to follow up on their initial connection.

Apparently enough people wondered that writer/director Richard Linklater and his two stars decided to make a sequel. Before Sunset takes place nine years after the original, and we once again meet Jesse and Celine, this time in Paris. Jesse has written a book about his night in Vienna with Celine, and is on a European book tour. Celine shows up at a book signing, and we get to find out what has transpired since we last saw the two. Once again Jesse has a plane to catch, but the two have several hours to spend catching up and wandering around Paris. We learn what directions their lives have taken, and start hoping once again that the two will connect before the credits roll.

Both of these films are emotionally satisfying, with excellent acting and beautiful scenery. What a great way to satisfy a romance craving if you don’t feel like cracking the spine of a book!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On the Book Cart

The latest Stephanie Laurens hardcover, Where the Heart Leads, looks like a nice combination of romance and mystery. Laurens is well known for her spicy Regency romances, and this novel is set in that same time period and loosely connected to her works featuring the Cynsters. The heroine, Lady Penelope Ashford, enlists the assistance of the Honorable Barnaby Adair. Lady Penelope has devoted herself to providing assistance to the orphans of London’s worst slums, and lately many of these children have gone missing. Adair has made a name for himself as an amateur detective, and because of his social status has access to all levels of society. The two join forces to solve the mystery, and of course, romance ensues. Also on the cart this week is The Accidental Countess, by Melissa Schroeder. This is another historical with an element of suspense, featuring a young lady who rescues a man she finds passed out in the snow. Before you can say “compromising position” they are forced to marry. All is not happily ever after though, since someone is apparently trying to kill the earl and his new bride. If your taste runs more to paranormal, pick up the new Lynsay Sands novel, The Accidental Vampire. The latest in her Argeneau series, the book features Elvi Black, who has recently become a vampire through no fault of her own, and Victor Argeneau, undead for centuries and incredibly handsome in spite of his advanced age. This one looks like a lot of fun.
As always, if there is an author or book you are having trouble finding, just let us know -- we are happy to help!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Book Recommendations Delivered to Your Inbox – FREE!!

Sometimes it’s tough to find the time to browse the stacks or keep track of new releases. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten halfway home from the library and suddenly remembered the book I meant to look for or request – and I work here! One way to make sure that you always have something a good book at hand is to sign up for our NextReads e-newsletter. NextReads provides book synopses for both new releases and older titles that fall into the “Good books you might have missed” category. Even better, each entry links directly to our online catalog, so you can reserve a title while you’re still thinking about it! The Romance newsletter comes out monthly, and usually contains six to twelve titles to choose from, as well as updates on things going on in the library. If you are a fan of other genres, you can sign up for those newsletters as well. Sign-up is quick and easy; just click on the link below!

Friday, February 1, 2008

So You Want to be a Romance Writer.....

On Writing Romance
By Leigh Michaels

Have you always dreamed of being the next Nora Roberts? Or did you close the last romance novel you read and say to yourself, “I could do this?” If so, maybe it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing. Before you put pen to paper though, you might want to check out On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel that Sells. Author Leigh Michaels has published over eighty contemporary romances and teaches writing workshops online.
Her book for aspiring authors is full of helpful advice on all aspects of writing and publishing a romance, starting with “Getting Ready to Write” and finishing up with “Submitting Your Romance Novel.” She also includes samples of query and cover letters, a list of romance publishers, and a reading list. This is a well organized, easy to follow guide to writing any kind of romance. It includes excellent examples and practical advice. If you are truly interested in writing in this category, picking up this book will be a great first step.