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The Romance List

Ms Bites
I've been reading off this list from The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List--specifically the Fantasy List and the Literary Fiction List. I was finding I enjoyed the recommended books so much, I decided to tackle the Romance List, since I've never had much success with that genre.

My impression honestly is almost all much of the genre is disposable crap--and much of it literally is--the category romances published by Harlequin, Silhouette, and Mills and Boon are designed to be on the store shelves one month, then any remainders are tossed. The list I tackled was of the so-called keepers, and yet even though that guide book came out only a couple of years ago, over half of the romance list's 129 books are already out of print. (In contrast, true of only four of the 36 on the fantasy list--and two of those four are paranormal romances that were found on the romance aisle when they were in print.) If the book suggested in the guide was out-of-print or unavailable in my neighborhood book stores, I looked to see if I could substitute another title by the same author found on the list of Top 100 Romance Novels. That left me with 36 books to read--and I did enjoy over half. However, I tend to enjoy a much larger percentage of books rec'd to me in other genres, and even of those I did enjoy, only about a handful--much fewer than with other genres--are what I'd call keepers that would take up my book shelf space and I could see rereading some day.

Below is what I thought of the books I tried. If anyone reads in the romance genre and can stand my ripping apart of many below, do let me know if a book I read and hated isn't representative of the author or if you think there's better romance novel authors out there not on the list below. Keep in mind in recommending though (reinforced by my reading the below) that I can't stand "head-hopping," flowery descriptions, a romantic hero who acts like a sexual predator or a romantic heroine that acts like a doormat.



Our Ratings

= Outstanding! Strong characters and involving plot told with style. Worth buying and keeping on your book shelf and recommending to others--even give as a gift. I'd read other books by this author - transcends the genre.
= Exceeds Expectations. Likable characters, interesting plot, readable style with aspects that make this book stand out within the genre - a good, fun read.
- Acceptable. Mostly enjoyable. I made it through the entire book and didn't consider it a waste of time or money, though it's not getting shelf space and I can't see ever rereading it nor does this make me want to read more of the author. Worth a try if you like romance novels.
- Not terrible, but it didn't hold me and I stopped reading--or I finished it wanting to hurl the book against the wall. Someone else might find it more appealing--particularly if they're the kind that gobbles up romance novels.
= Dreadful - I don't get how this tripe got published or on a recommendation list. Or how even romance book fans could like it.
= WTF (aka huh???)
= crap

Abe, Shana, The Smoke Thief - It started off with a rather inert telly prologue that nevertheless had a cool premise--this novel is a mixture of historical (Georgian England) and paranormal (shape-shifters into dragons) romance, and does have some imaginative elements. The titular heroine, Rue, is a jewel thief. Unfortunately the focus isn't on any of those aspects, but the "romance" which features the a-hole "alpha," Kit, of the shape-shifting dragon "tribe" who, since the heroine is his destined "mate," sees nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to get her to yes. The sex scene isn't quite played as rape but had this charming line: Rape or seduction. He would take either. Having suffered through "emerald" and "jade eyes" for the hero and "chocolate" and "chestnut" hair for the heroine, "warm folds" and "velvet sheaths" that line--unfortunately all the way on page 215--did me in. Hey--it was the first book on the list--after that I got way less forgiving. First book in a series--won't be looking the others up.

Anderson, Catherine, Sweet Nothings - There might be an appealing contemporary romance in here. I'll never know--because I couldn't take the romance-novel stylings. Not even five pages in the rancher hero's eyes were described as both "blue and searing as laser beams" and a "blaze of azure" and that was only the bare beginning of the detailed description of male pulchritude ("sable hair" and skin like "melted caramel" among other things in the very first pages). The heroine is described by the hero as "pleasantly plump," and she feels she needs to lose 30 pounds--that was a bit different and refreshing. Both seemed likable characters, and there were hints of a real dilemma and plot there--but I knew if I read one more page, I'd hurl. Stopped at page 40.

Balogh, Mary, Slightly Married - OMG, this was so stupid. First, it's one of those "marriage of convenience" stories set in Regency England with the most contrived device I've seen even after a multitude of Snape/Hermione MLCs. Unless the heroine marries within four days, she will lose her inheritance and her estate--turning out her unemployable servants as well. The scene with the servants featured dialogue that went like: "Oh, but you're such a good cook, you'll have no trouble finding another place." "But Miss, once they find out I worked for that brothel..." Another servant had been a poacher; another is, shall we say, mentally challenged; another has one-arm and she was going to buy him a neighboring estate to establish a home for fellow disabled veterans. I could hear the sound of the smallest violin playing. Oh, and did I mention the two small orphans and elderly aunt taken in by the heroine? Even the dog had only three legs and one eye. Stopped at page 48--despite the hero with black hair and "dark, inscrutable eyes," "cruel, thin lips" and a "hooked nose" over a decade older than the heroine... First of a series--I won't read more of it--or the author. EVER.

Brockmann, Suzanne, The Unsung Hero - After the above wretched novels this contemporary novel of "romantic suspense" set in the Boston area was a relief. The novel features some of the usual overwriting found in the romance genre about the gorgeousness of the lead characters, but not quite as incessant as in most. Likable leading characters at that: both over 30 for once and both career professionals--Tom Paoletti, a Navy SEAL officer, and Kelly Ashton, a divorced doctor. There were even memorable and appealing supporting players! I liked the secondary geek-love romance between Mallory, Tom's niece, and David, an artist even more--it's what raises this book to a four star for me. (And David *gasp* is Asian--I can't tell you how rare it is in the romance genre to have a romantic protagonist to be anything but Caucasian.) And behold a real plot along thriller lines. I did have some style issues, and I wouldn't call the novel a keeper: not a prose style to savor or quotable lines, and it never elicited tears or laughter or a gasp of surprise. But it was entertaining--a good beach/airplane read. This is the first of a series and since some reviews I read told me the novels get much better, I might try the next one.

Cole, Kresley, A Hunger Like No Other - The so-called hero, Lachlain MacRieve, is a werewolf. I knew it was a bad, bad sign when the "timid" never-been-kissed heroine, Emmaline Troy, turns out to be--I kid you not--half Valkyrie and half Vampire. (The cheesy "I'm-so-embarrassed-to-be-seen-reading-this" cover was another clue.) Fortunately, my suffering was brief, because by page 10, having chased down our heroine, our hero is sexually assaulting her, ripping her clothes off and threatening her with death. I guess it's all supposed to be OK since she's "his mate, the one woman made for him alone." (At least that might mean other women are safe from him.) And they say the old bodice ripper is dead! And this one got a win from the top Romance genre award. And people wonder why so many have contempt for the romance genre? No way this piece of crap would have won a Hugo or Nebula. Stopped reading at page 12. One of the Immortals After Dark series, I won't be reading more. (RITA Award - Best Paranormal Romance, 2007)

Coulter, Catherine, The Cove - Coulter is a romance writer that has broken out into the mainstream; this book was found in the mystery section. Blessedly, the book lacked the romance genre's purple prose descriptions of the protagonists, but it did have a bad habit of head-hopping that by Chapter Four was seriously getting on my nerves. However, the book also had an intriguing mystery that was pulling me in and had me firmly hooked by Chapter Ten. Unfortunately, the plot holes kept growing until they became a yawing plot gorge. To give one example not a spoiler, the hero, an FBI agent, more than once talked about how his gun was on a hair-trigger. Then, without any mention of unloading it after taking it away from someone, he "tosses" it into the car. Time and time again he and his partner ignore the law and act recklessly and irresponsibly. Eventually little and not so little things like that piled up, the story lost credibility with me, and I stopped reading about half way through and skipped to the end--the resolution of the mystery made no sense. This is also the second novel out of six read so far on this list where the heroine was involuntarily committed for mental illness by her husband and is on the run to avoid being sent back. (Sweet Nothings is the other.) Is this something common in the romance genre or what? Part of the FBI Thriller series--I'm going to pass on the rest.

Crusie, Jennifer, Bet Me - The author can found in general fiction these days, as was this novel--often a sign of quality. I'd liked the other book by her I'd tried, Anyone But You. More than once I've been told by people who don't like romance books that Crusie is their one exception--I can understand why. I loved the heroine, Minerva Dobbs, a "chubby" thirty-something who has friends and a sister who love her and a mother who drives her insane. And Calvin Morrisey--I fell a bit in love with him myself. Aside from them there's an entire cast of lovable, quirky secondary characters. This might even be called "chick-lit" as much as romance because the friendships and family relationships are very important here. There wasn't one word, not one sentence of this book I didn't savor--down to the love scene which makes every other sex scene in the books in this post seem bland and generic no matter how explicit--because Crusie imbues it with humor and wrote it so this is something not interchangeable with other characters but belongs to Min and Cal. The book even has a theme(tm). The text is headed by a quote from Gloria Steinem: Women's total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage. Oh, and after this I'm going to have to make Chicken Marsala. And maybe get a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Read the book and you'll understand. Funny, sharp, smart, literate, with a clean style--I loved this to death--it deserves shelf space--I could see rereading this (particularly as a pick-up on a rotten day). Will I be reading more Crusie? You betcha! (RITA Award - Best Contemporary Single Title, 2005)

Deveraux, Jude, A Knight in Shining Armor - First published in 1985, this is a much recommended book and author in the romance genre. In this time-turner time-travel tale the hero, Nicholas, is summoned to modern day England by the need of the American heroine, Dougless, for a "knight in shining armor"--that, she tells Nicholas, is what "all women want...a man to rescue her." Two-thirds through the book she will also time-travel--to his 16th Century. When I first tried this a year ago, Dougless came across to me as a whiny doormat. It didn't help that in the opening pages marriage is described as what she "wanted most in life," and she's only with her boyfriend because he's "good husband material." I decided to give this novel another chance though, and at first my initial impression was the same, but pushing through those first few chapters I found at a certain point I was enjoying myself. That's because the author really was convincing in the book's historical details--I remember being struck by things like how she depicted Elizabethian dentistry and print. At first Dougless thinks Nicholas is illiterate, because he can't understand modern print, then he shows her the print and spelling of his era, and she realizes she can't make it out any better. Besides which, Dougless does grow in this book, and not just because of "love" but in seeking to help Nicholas she grows in competence and confidence--coming to his rescue. Nicholas, too, becomes a better person because of her entering his life. At points this piece of fluff still struck me as silly, and I had style issues. (Whoa, few romance authors can hold point of view.) Nevertheless, overall I found this an entertaining read, often funny and ultimately heart-warming.

du Maurier, Daphne, Rebecca - I first read this in a mystery anthology owned by my mother, even though it was, I read, originally published as romance. These days it can be found in the general fiction section. Published in 1938, I'd say you can call this Gothic romance a classic--and it works on all levels--as both romance but also as a mystery with a twist worthy of Christie and written with real style. The opening lines are among the most famous and evocative in English literature: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Fitting, because the estate of Manderley is almost a character onto itself in this book. And Mrs Danvers? One of the most sinister characters in fiction. I've read and enjoyed other books by the author, such as My Cousin Rachel. Definitely the best book on this list, although in tone arguably the darkest. (Anthony Award - Novel Of The Century, 2000)

Feehan, Christine, Dark Prince - Ah, the stalker vampire romantic hero--a favorite of mine. NOT. Oh, and dear God, the return of the "destined mate" trope that in an alpha male is supposed to let the reader (and heroine) forgive the romantic lead anything even near rape. You know, you'd think a guy would treat a gal better if it were true that: "Only a lifemate could bring emotions and color back into a male's life. Carpathian women were the light to the male's darkness. His other half." But no. (Here's a hint. If you touch a women, and she says "Stop!" and starts crying--STOP.) Oh, and he calls her "little one." *gag* This novel is the start to a popular series in paranormal romance, which is why I gave this as many as 22 pages before deciding I'd had as much as I could stand. I'm sorry--if you want vampire romantic heroes try Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries. Or Robin McKinley's Sunshine. Or Tanya Huff's Blood series. Or Mercedes Lackey's Children of the Night. Or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain tales. Or even Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake (though LKH imo badly jumps the shark after the eighth book in the series.) Not hurting for choice here. And yes, I've read all those--I'm picky when I come to my vampires and Feehan does not make the cut. Part of the Carpathian series I won't be reading more of. (Pearl ParaNormal Excellence Awards - 2009)

Foster, Lori, Jude's Law - Right from the beginning Jude, the male lead, was sexually aggressive in a way that might have been fine if May, the heroine, had pushed back, or flirted in turn, or maybe even if they had been in an equal position. They weren't--a point is made that Jude's patronage of May's gallery is all that's keeping her afloat--and he knows it. Given that May's nervous, "Oh, you're just joking" clueless-on-purpose response to his overtures struck me as a God, get away from me and Jude's persistence as sexual harassment. Not good. (May by the way is described by Jude as "Rubenesque" and by another character as "chunky." Nice that--that she's not the usual stick figure heroine.) Then enter stupid plot to kill Jude--loan sharks will forgive the gambling debt of May's drunkard brother if he kills Jude. (What? They never heard of paid hit men?) So, what do you think, do Jude and May do something sensible like call the police when they learn of the threat? D'oh. No. So on page 130, particularly since I didn't find this book had anything going for it, I gave up.

Gabaldon, Diana, Outlander - Like Deveraux's novel, one of those "modern heroine travels to centuries past" stories; in this case, 18th Century Scotland. Gabaldon can found in general fiction often these days and the novel was noteworthy when published for breaking a lot of romance genre rules (while keeping to some romance cliches like marriage of convenience.) Unusual in this genre for being told in first person. Definitely in style and attention to historical detail a cut above the usual in the romance aisle, and this is one I finished and actually kept on my bookshelf. On the other hand, you need a strong stomach with this novel, which featured heterosexual and homosexual rape, domestic violence and sadistic torture. After all the characters go through, when I discovered that in the next novel, Dragonfly in Amber, Gabaldon in a sense hit the reset button, I dropped the sequel and series. I admit, her rants against fan fiction don't exactly make me well-disposed to give Gabaldon's other books another chance. (RITA Award - Best Romance, 1992)

Garwood, Julie, Saving Grace - This is set in Britain in 1206 and revolves around a 16 year old English girl, Johanna, who was married for three years to an abusive husband, then second time around marries a Scottish laird, Gabriel, in an arranged marriage. I did actually stick it out to the end with this novel and enjoyed some of it. On the other hand, there were parts that struck me as implausible, there were the usual style issues that seem endemic to romance (God, the Ping-pong point of view problems in these books!), not much happens for half of the book and the overprotectiveness of Gabriel and the initial timidness of Johanna got on my one nerve. Still, there's smile-worthy humor, primitive golf, lovable wolfhounds and manly men in kilts, and I liked how it dealt with one aspect of women's status in the medieval period. This doesn't strike me as a book-even-someone-that-hates-romance-books-might-enjoy, (and at this point I may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome to have finished it) but if you like the genre already, this might be a good bet.

Garwood, Julie, Slow Burn - This book of Garwood's isn't historical romance but a contemporary novel of "romantic suspense." I did have style issues, and it's not as if the prose is anything to savor, but compared to so many wretched torturous styles I've suffered on this list this was readable--with a narrative that flowed well and characters I cared enough about to want to keep going to the very end. I even found one part that choked me up a little. I liked Kate--an entrepreneur with one sister in medical school and another entering college still in mourning for her mother who recently died. She has family she cares about and friends--it's not all about the guy. And the guy involved, Dylan, a Boston Police Department detective, is pretty appealing. Though the mystery's resolution wasn't too surprising, unlike that in The Cove, it wasn't ridiculous.

Gibson, Rachel, Truly Madly Yours - This gets prize for the worse proofing I've ever seen on a professionally published book. In the hundred pages of this contemporary romance I pushed myself to read, I noticed two cases of "too" where it should have been "to," "soul" instead of "sole" a "ly" suffix left off twice, and the wrong woman's name used in a sentence. I guess I shouldn't necessarily blame the author for shoddy copyediting--I can however blame her for the ludicrous (yet in romance) cliched plot, where the stipulations of a will are used to force the two romantic protagonists together. All might have been forgiven if the book offered me something--absorbing plot with twists and turns, immersed me in its small-town Idaho setting, striking prose, memorable characters I cared about, made me laugh--anything. But it was just blah, so at the end of Chapter Four and 99 pages I put it down. (Golden Heart Award Winner)

Heyer, Georgette, Devil's Cub - Published in 1932, this is the second part of a trilogy dealing with the Alastair family that began with These Old Shades and concludes with An Infamous Army. Some of the author's works can found in general fiction, and I know plenty who usually eschew romance novels who love Heyer--A.S. Byatt is a fan. Her Regency novels were published from 1921 to 1972 so I think we can put her into near-classic status--although Devil's Cub is actually set in the earlier Georgian Era. The book is a good example of the omniscient point of view--I've complained about sloppy point of views that switch between characters thoughts within scenes, or even paragraphs, but a true omniscient point of view, done consistently and with a strong voice is an exception to that rule--and Heyer does it well and with a lot of humor. Not that hers is a style I find completely graceful. The "she marvelled" and "he interjected" and the like in the speech tags accompanied by the most awkward adverb abuse--I felt as if bounced on a trampoline by them--and it's hard to read "he ejaculated" with a straight face. It's really great, witty dialogue--I wish Heyer would have got out of its way. (Though "chit" is used so often, I think I now know where the SSHGers get it from.) There is a wealth of period detail--slang, fashions, etc.--I couldn't help but think of what I once read of Austen though--that she eschewed a lot of details because she felt it would date her works, rather than making them universal, and early on all that description struck me as cluttered, but eventually I came to see it as part of Heyer's charm. This was my first Heyer, and I have to admit that besides the style issues, I initially had a problem with the titular character--I might have dropped the book a third way through if many I trust didn't tell me they love Heyer. The romantic hero, Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal, is a rake, who in the first six chapters seems a cold stone killer and seducer. I detested him. About a hundred pages in he abducts the heroine, Mary Challoner, who obstructed his plans to make her sister his mistress. I thought, well, maybe I chose the wrong book. But then Mary endeared herself to me forever: Reader, she shot him. With his own pistol. After that, I started enjoying myself :-)

Holt, Victoria (aka Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr), Mistress of Mellyn - This Gothic romance first published in 1960 is one of those rare romance novels I read as a teen that I remember--and remember fondly; it still holds up on a read decades later. These days you find Holt in the general fiction section in my neighborhood Barnes and Noble, not the romance section--indicative of its near classic status as a work of "romantic suspense." Set in Victorian-era Cornwall, the heroine, Martha, is entering a position as a governess at Mellyn. This is a well-written first person narrative, though the prose style isn't the equal of du Maurier or Stewart, it's better than all but a handful of the books on this list. There are some memorable lines--Martha to someone flirting with her: Since I resemble a hedgehog, at least I'm not spineless. And she isn't, although I think she harps too much on her lowly social status as a governess. Comparing her again to Stewart (and there are a number of similarities in these tales of two governesses) Holt strikes me as melodramatic--but certainly atmospheric and spooky. I liked Martha's relationship with the two children in this story, Alvean and Gilly--the last so striking a character she's the clearest memory I had from my first read decades ago. The book works well as a mystery with a good twist.

Howard, Linda, Mr. Perfect - STOP THE PRESSES! An author on the list that can hold a point of view. One that didn't strike me as flowery in descriptions or the sex scenes. One that actually *gasp* had witty dialogue. One that actually gave the heroine, Jaine, friends that felt real and I cared about--like Bet Me this is as much about a circle of friends as the romance. One that wrote a romantic hero I found appealing and sexy. (And I liked it wasn't an instant attraction for once--that Jaine's first impression of Sam was that he was a "jerk"--that for once the attraction was something that built.) Now, the book's not--well, perfect. The book revolves around this list four friends make up about the perfect man. I found it far fetched the list would kick up the fuss it did in this book, even gaining them an appearance on television. The villain struck me as over the top and cliched. And I thought the romantic relationship progressed way too fast. But damn this was fun to read. Fun--and often funny. (On purpose I should add.)

James, Eloisa, Much Ado About You - I enjoyed this Regency romance despite it being a variety of the marriage of convenience trope. The style wasn't bad in romance terms--not flowery or purple anyway even if with the too often seen point of view glitches. I liked the period detail, literary allusions and how life among the horsey set figured in. The author says it was inspired by Little Women and I could see that in the way the four Scottish sisters featured in the novel; they felt like sisters in how they interacted and each had a distinct personality. It was refreshing to read a romance novel where the heroine had important relationships with other women. First book in a series about the sisters. Not sure I'll ever look the rest up.

Johansen, Iris, The Ugly Duckling - Johansen, like Roberts and Coulter, is one of those that has made it onto the bestseller lists and can be found in other than the romance section--in this case, this novel was found in general fiction and works as a thriller and mystery, and it has a fairly clean style that can hold point of view. It fits in the standard revenge plot, as the titular heroine, Nell, works to avenge her family's death--plastic surgery upgrades her from ugly duckling to swan. Well-paced, often suspenseful, this story zipped along and I cared about the characters, including and especially Nell and her love Nicholas, who works with her against the villains of the story. Nice twist too at the end.

Joy, Dara, Knight of a Trillion Stars - Way too easy to mock this is. This cheesy paranormal romance features an alien, a "Knight of the Charl" complete with light saber, who pops into the life of an aspiring science-fiction writer, Deana Jones. (Probably not a good sign when the book's protagonist has a name so reminiscent of the author.) So, tell me. You find a strange man in your house and you're alone. Do you: a) Scream and run out of the house to your car. b) Grab the phone and call the police. c) Check out how hot he is with his gold hair and lavender eyes, exchange (non)witty banter, and when he insists over your objections he's going with you on your vacation for your "protection" book him a seat on the plane then take him shopping for a new wardrobe--despite the fact you were just laid off and have no new job lined up. Guess which our heroine chooses? Given the title, that it was written a decade later, and the fish-out-of-water scenario I suspect this was a science-fiction riff off A Knight in Shining Armor, but it has none of the charm with which Deveraux invested her story and hero. Oh, and the controlling alpha-dick hero calls the heroine "Little Fire." For her red hair donchaknow. I lasted 44 pages. That's about an hour of my life I'm not getting back, and I resent every minute. A "matrix of destiny romance" so I suppose this is a series. *shudder* Oh, and from what I gathered from other reviews, this book later involves a forced marriage and rape over the heroine's repeated nos--although she comes to like it. So quitting when I did? Good call. (Sapphire Award - Novel, 1996)

Kenyon, Sherrilyn, Night Pleasures - This has the usual wretched romance novel style with head hoping among other stylistic nits and the usual eye-rolling descriptions of great beauty and flowery euphemisms in the sex scenes--but no worse than most books on this post--I'd almost come to take that for granted. But gad. First words said to the hero after ogling him by Amanda, the heroine, who had been knocked unconscious and wakes up cuffed to him: "Wake up, yummy leather guy." What really got on my one nerve more than anything else though was the mishmash of Greek and Roman Mythology, pseudo-history and pop references. (Particularly to Buffy--unfortunate because it kept reminding me how much better that show is compared to this crap.) The hero, Kyrian of Thrace, is an immortal "Dark Hunter" with vampiric traits who hunts vampires and demons. Vampires in this world are descendants of the Greek god Apollo. (Apollo???? Hades I'd understand but WTF???) Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses pop in and out throughout the book. Supposedly, back when he was human, Kyrian almost conquered Rome during the "Fourth Macedonian War" but was brought down by Scipio and tortured to death by Valerius. The historical aspects of the novel are ludicrous--most readers probably don't notice or care, but it was one aspect that made the world-building feel sloppy--good authors, like those sold in other parts of the store, do a lot better; this book just serves to underline to me that if you want great genre love stories, you stay out of the romance aisle. Great romantic urban fantasy? Head to the fantasy/science fiction section and get Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong or go to the Young Adult section and pick up Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. So, so many fantasies out there with romance that are great reads--knowing that I just couldn't push myself beyond page 100--and I think I was over-generous. Part of the very popular "Dark Hunter" series I won't be reading more of. (P.E.A.R.L. - Shape Shifter, 2002)

Kleypas, Lisa, Suddenly You - This novel has a readable style compared to most romance novels, but what makes it stand out are the plot and characterizations which are about as far away from the conventional historical romance as you can get--in good ways. The heroine, Amanda Briars, is a women of independent means in Victorian England who makes her living as a novelist. She arranges for a male prostitute to come to her on her 30th birthday because she's tired of being a spinster virgin. Except what the madame sends is a man she thinks might be Amanda's match--Jack Devlin, a young publisher. And that's about as much I can tell you without it being a spoiler, except this breaks other romance conventions--which is the reason this was among my favorite reads on the list. I also think I find Jack just about the most appealing hero in this list--he's a real entrepreneur, an ambitious self-made man and I for one find that a thousand times more attractive than a title.

Laurens, Stephanie, Devil's Bride - Meh. This Regency romance with a mystery plot struck me as standard romance novel--nothing too eye-rolling or wretched in style compared to most in the genre, but nothing that was pulling me through the pages either, and fits the marriage of convenience trope as well. After 100 pages I started skipping and skimming and finally just turned to the to the last few chapters to see if I was right whodunnit (which I'd guessed from the opening chapters--way too obvious). I think my biggest disappointment was the heroine, Honoria. She starts out with hopes of someday traveling to Africa and had set herself up as an independent women with plans toward that goal, but ultimately casts those dreams aside without a pang to have the Duke's babies. And there goes the one quality that made Honoria original or interesting. Part of a series centered on the men of the Cynster family I definitely won't be reading more of. (And btw, I found the cutesy/sinister nicknames for the men of that family--like "Devil" and "Scandal" eye-rolling.)

Lindsey, Johanna, Man of My Dreams - Ugh. Where do I start? OK, first off, the premise is ridiculous: a duke in Victoria's England caught in a scandal needs to lay low for a while. So he hides on a local squire's estate as a stable boy? And brings blood stock with him to make it look like they're starting a stud farm? You know, there's this thing called the English Channel--it separates Britain from the Continent. I'd think that's where an English duke would go into hiding until things calmed down--where he could do so in style and not bedded in a stable. But then he wouldn't be where he can force a kiss on the squire's beautiful and marriageable daughter, and then when he doesn't approve of something she does, spank her as punishment. Which is where I left this book on page 204.

McNaught, Judith, Whitney, My Love - Another of those rare romance novels I read during my misspent youth that I remember liking, published in 1986. I wish I could say it holds up on a reread. I rather get why I may have once liked this book--I find Whitney herself appealing and sympathetic from the start--she has a difficult relationship with her father, a painful unrequited love, and is the kind of girl that--in Regency England--wears breeches to try riding stunts on horses. I still rather love her, at least in the beginning pre-doormat; her dialogue is often witty, and there are endearing secondary characters as well, thus the two stars. The problem is the "hero," Clayton--he makes me rather appalled I ever liked this book. If there's some aspect of an abusive relationship not illustrated by his character--including rape--I don't know what it would be. And mind you, what I read is the revised edition. I understand that in the original, the rape scene was more brutal--even softened, it still comes across as rape to me though. I wouldn't even say the rape is the most disturbing aspect of the abuse Clayton hands out to Whitney--emotionally the way he treats her again and again is out and out cruel. And she loves him. It makes it all the more pathetic as a drama about abuse, but I can't say it works as a love story for me--but that's what it's written as--romance. I read one review that suggests what might be appealing is the idea of having someone who treated you badly come asking you to take them back. On the other side, I imagine someone who is currently undergoing abuse might want to believe that forgiving time upon time might lead to that happily ever after. When I read it decades ago, I might have liked the idea of redemption and forgiveness. But on reread I just can't see a character arc with Clayton that makes him forgivable or redeemable. I don't think that (unlike, for instance, Deeble's Snape in What E'er Therein Is Promised) Clayton ever gets-a-clue he did wrong, or takes steps to show real change.

Moning, Karen Marie, Beyond the Highland Mist - Like the novels of Gabaldon and Deveraux, this is a time-travel romance with a modern woman. In this case an American is transported across the centuries by fairies to the Scottish Highlands in 1513. The implausibilities pile up real fast in this one. Like the heroine appears in a EVIL man's lap and he forces her to impersonate his dead daughter to fulfill a marriage contract with the hero. MLC ho! Why if this was such a dilemma, didn't Mr Evil pick one of the maids he bullies and beats? Dunno. This book also doesn't have the sense of authentic historical detail that impress in Gabaldon and Deveraux--but does feature excruciatingly stupid dialogue and romance novel twaddle. (Gad, the hero's "ebony" eyes have "gold flecks." Seriously.) Oh, did I mention the heroine fainted--twice? And not because she was ill or pregnant. I think Outlander and A Knight in Shining Armor spoiled me--let alone dozens of works of historical fiction with elements of romance that are so much better than this crap. Stopped at page 102 with this one, which is more than it deserves. By and by had one of those man titty covers--second most embarrassing cover to be seen with on this post after the one for A Hunger Like No Other. (P.E.A.R.L. Honorable Mention - Time Travel, 1999)

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth, It Had to Be You - This author and novel is on several romance rec lists, so I had tried this one before the last time I looked to see what the genre had to offer. The heroine is supposedly someone smart who only pretends to be a bimbo--but I'm afraid she comes across as the real thing. Oh, and the hero, head coach at the football team she inherits, is another one of those a-hole "alpha" males. Right after they have sex, since the heroine has a "reputation" he asks her if she has been tested for STDS. Smoooth... The book had some funny moments, was interesting in it's look at pro football, and kept me to the end, but the characters never really grew on me or convinced they had anything going for them beyond mutual lust. Part of the Chicago Stars series. (RITA Award - Best Romance, 1995)

Putney, Mary Jo, One Perfect Rose - Putney is the author of one of those out-of-print paranormal romance books mentioned above on the fantasy recommendation list--Stolen Magic. This romance set in Regency England involves an actress, Rosalind, and a Duke, Stephen, both widowed--and both appealing characters. Since in the beginning of the novel he's told by his doctor he's dying, I found his unconventional choice believable. I also love books that give a convincing look at an unfamiliar world, and in that regard enjoyed the first half of the book where the Duke, incognito, falls among a traveling troupe of actors. I didn't care for a twist three-quarters through, but by then I liked the characters enough I kept reading. I had other issues with some developments in that last quarter of the book, but I still found the book an enjoyable read overall, thankfully not one with a florid romance novel style.

Quick, Amanda (aka Jayne Ann Krentz), Ravished - I truly enjoyed this Regency romance, despite it being along marriage of convenience lines. (No wonder the MLC is all over Snape/Hermione like bird do on a window ledge--the marriage of convenience trope is all over the romance genre and a third of the stories on this post fit within this it.) Written in a fairly clean style, holding point of view and without purple prose--the kind of story that pulls you in and in a few hours you look up blinking having finished the book. The hero is one of those misunderstood men (tm) whose fearsome exterior and reputation hides a decent man. The heroine has a passion for fossils and the underlying biology and geology--and doesn't lose that when she falls for the hero. She sometimes comes across as TSTL, but since it's usually because she's being a complete geek, I forgive it. (Think Luna Lovegood.) He's stubborn and she's even more stubborn. I liked that.

Robb, J.D. (aka Nora Roberts), Naked in Death - On the positive side, I liked a lot of the imaginative touches in this vision of a mid-twenty-first century New York City and was initially pulled into the mystery. In fact, this novel was shelved in mystery, not romance--and could be called science fiction as well--I usually like such blends of genres. In the end though, this didn't really work for me as science-fiction, mystery or romance. The sci-fi aspects ultimately are mere trappings, despite the angle on legalized prostitution and a gun ban (and already feel dated). The mystery didn't have a twist or impact like the best of that genre. And the romance? Roberts is supposedly known in the genre for pioneering strong female characters, and Lieutenant Eve Dallas comes across as such--dedicated, bright--before she meets the jerk alpha man of her dreams she falls into bed with--even though he's a suspect. Also, this is early Roberts, having been written in 1995. That means it doesn't yet have the smoother, cleaner style you'd get later from her. Expect POV ping pong--really bad so it's hard sometimes to know who's thinking what. Also, FWIW, I found the Right-winger = asshole riff and anti-gun rants in this novel mucho annoying, even eye-rolling. I did rather like that unlike almost every other romance novel in this list (Bet Me and Outlander are the other exceptions) gay and bi characters actually exist. (And people come in shades other than pale, again, not often seen in romance books if this list of romances I've read through is an indication.) But no, this is not a novel I'd recommend--though this is the first in a series and I hear it improves a lot--I think there are almost 40 books. (Roberts, under any name, is amazingly prolific.) I can well believe the series does get better having read one of Roberts recent books, Tribute--her writing after 15 years has matured into a much cleaner style--but I'm going to pass on reading more of the "in Death" series. Be warned--this is a lot grittier than the usual romance with graphic sex and violence.

Roberts, Nora, Tribute - The book recommended in the guide is Born in Fire, the first of a trilogy, which I'd tried before. I didn't care for it. The style struck me as clunky--I remember head-hopping among other stylistic nits that drove me crazy. The Irish characters also struck me as cliched stereotypes. However, Robert's not just a very well-regarded author in the genre (and prolific, almost 500 books) she's one of those that made it out of the genre ghetto into the mainstream bestseller ranks. So I tried her 2009 book, Tribute, which notably was written 15 years after Born in Fire and found it a much smoother, enjoyable read with a much cleaner style. A book with appealing characters--a strong heroine and non-jerky hero--that featured a page-turner mystery plot I can still remember a year later. (And how can I resist a hero with a dog named Spock?) I liked how the author worked in the details of the hero and heroine's professions--in her case, renovating houses, in his, creating graphic novels. Now, the book's not a keeper--not one of those with space on my bookshelves I consider a peak reading experience or would ever want to reread. But it was an enjoyable way to spend some hours.

Rose, Karen, Nothing to Fear - Style-wise, this wasn't bad--at least on romance novel terms and it flowed well. It was particular turns of plot that had me give up on it after Chapter Six 117 pages into this contemporary novel of "romantic suspense." Strike One: at the start of this novel a child is kidnapped, and not only don't the parents call the police because of the kidnapper's demands, the friend they bring in who is a security professional goes along with that--even though it means covering up someone was also murdered at the time of the abduction. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Strike Two: that friend, our hero, literally bumps into our heroine, the head of the women's shelter the female kidnapper took refuge in. Quel coincidence! Strike Three: love at first sight and touch. Call me cynical, but I always find that eye-rolling, especially the way it's pointed up. And if baseball allowed me to extend the metaphor, let's just say there'd be a strike four and five within those first 100 pages.

Stewart, Mary, Nine Coaches Waiting - An author that can be found in general fiction--her Arthurian Merlin Trilogy is among my favorite books. This book published in 1958, a classic of "romantic suspense," is written in first person with a gorgeous, evocative prose style. Generally, the best I can say about a romance novel's prose style is that it isn't eye-bleeding--the prose in this novel invoked writer's envy the way no other book on this post did other than Rebecca. The characters are all very distinctive individuals: from the narrator, Linda Martin, who travels to France to take a position as a governess, to the man she falls for, Raoul de Valmy to the little boy she protects, Phillipe. The story is exquisitely paced, suspenseful and moving--I cried at the end. And I don't consider myself easy. I'm definitely going to be hunting up the other Stewart novels I haven't read. Sadly, like du Maurier, she wasn't prolific.

Ward, J.R., Dark Lover - Fairly clean style (as in the author can actually hold point of view), imaginative world-building (not your traditional vamps, but I promise you they don't sparkle), rounded characterizations with good voices, a page-turner. Negatives? Well, the heroine had been sexually assaulted and days later is jumping into bed with the hero the first time they meet--on the other hand, this is paranormal romance with hints there's something supernatural behind their attraction so I'm willing to suspend my disbelief. This is certainly a much better book than the other paranormal romances recommended on the list: Cole, Feehan, Kenyon. On the other hand, it's not equal to romantic dark fantasies shelved elsewhere like Armstrong, Bishop, Caine, Carey, Cashore, Harris, Huff, Lackey, Marr, McKinley, etc. (Sapphire Award - Novel, 2006; P.E.A.R.L. Honorable Mention - Shape-Shifter, 2005)

Woodiwiss, Kathleen, The Wolf and the Dove - A notorious bodice-ripper from 1974, and alas, still in print. Let's see. Set during the Norman Conquest it starts with Wulfgar's men invading Aislinn's home, killing her father, beating her mother and making her into a slave who is raped before being chained to the floor at night. Wulfgar then claims her as spoils and says she should have no objection to his bedding her since she's no longer a virgin--what's one more man? He addresses her as "slave." I lasted only to the first rape by Wulfgar around page 123 or so, but judging from reviews by others I've read, he rapes her again and again before gaining any sort of feeling for her--and she falls in love with him. I also hated the style, especially the pseudo-medieval stylings like "damsel" and "tis" and "nay"--which was said by the heroine a lot only to be ignored. And this according to what I've read is a much loved and reread book that turned many on to the romance genre and one of its first epic blockbuster bestsellers. Go figure.

Edit: Romance Authors Others Recommend I Try: Holly Black, Connie Brockway, Loretta Chase, Susan Mallery, Julie Ortolon, Pam Rosenthal, Sharon Sala, Linnea Sinclair, Maggie Stiefvater, Sherry Thomas, and Sherryl Woods.

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
miamadwyn
Jun. 30th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
I have been enjoying Lisa Kleypas's books. Heyer goes without saying. I enjoyed The Smoke Thief more than you did, and thought the next two books each got stronger.

Whitney My Love is one I never read, but I get the creeps from the fact that the hero and heroine were named after her son and daughter. Try writing THAT sex, Mom. Ick.
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
Kleypas was one of my favorites on the list--especially after reading the ones up higher on the alphabet, I was just so happy to see her break romance conventions left and right--and I found the hero among the most appealing on the list. Heyer I almost stopped reading and thought I'd give it a two--but then the heroine shoots the hero. LOL. Like Dominic, I found myself impressed ;-) And the dialogue is often so witty so...

I can almost understand liking The Smoke Thief--there were aspects of the book I liked a lot. I thought the whole dragon shapeshifter thing was really imaginative in a lot of ways--and I rather liked Rue. But I hated the hero and when I hit that line...

Whitney My Love is one I never read, but I get the creeps from the fact that the hero and heroine were named after her son and daughter. Try writing THAT sex, Mom. Ick.

Ugh. Ick. What shocked me so much about that book is once upon a time I remembered loving it--it's one of the few on the list I'd read before. I'm a bit shocked my reaction is so different now...
quietselkie
Jun. 30th, 2010 11:42 pm (UTC)
Wicked Lovely? Romantic? Really? Really? *squints hard at HB* I thought Marr should have written Dona's story, because Aislinn's was...eurgh. Creepy and gross, and her human boyfriend rang every gothboy stereotype there is.

Thoroughly agree about DuMaurier and Mary Stewart, though. My favorite of Stewart's is probably The Ivy Tree.

I remember reading my way through Victoria Holt in my teens and still sell bits of it in the shop, but so much of it was forced seduction (mostly off stage) that I got a pretty warped view of Empire and Victorian eras' sensibilities.
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
Whitney My Love is one I never read, but I get the creeps from the fact that the hero and heroine were named after her son and daughter. Try writing THAT sex, Mom. Ick.

I read it on silburygirl's rec as an anti-Twilight. I think one thing I loved about it was that Aislinn doesn't go for the gorgeous glamorous immortal fae prince, but an ordinary boy. Also--fae, elves, etc--I usually find them staid, boring--I was impressed with the danger Marr imbued them with--and I remember liking the style--these books--almost every single one of them the style was utterly wretched.

Thoroughly agree about DuMaurier and Mary Stewart, though. My favorite of Stewart's is probably The Ivy Tree.

I haven't read that one--though I can tell you know I will. I'd read and loved Stewart's Arthurian books, but somehow had never gotten around to her gothic romances. I was startled just how good the style was--the prose was freakin' gorgeous--and so vivid in giving you a sense of place.

I remember reading my way through Victoria Holt in my teens and still sell bits of it in the shop, but so much of it was forced seduction (mostly off stage) that I got a pretty warped view of Empire and Victorian eras' sensibilities.

Mistress of Mellyn isn't forced seduction. It's very similar actually on a lot of plot points with Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting--and I left Stewart and Holt to the end, expecting both to be good. Holt's was good--but she just imo couldn't hold a candle to Stewart.
quietselkie
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
For me, Marr really suffered in comparison with Maggie Stiefvater's debut (Lament) and just about anything fae by Holly Black. I read them all in close proximity, and just kept finding myself rolling my eyes over Marr; it was like she had a Sparkly-Poo Teen Bestseller! checklist. Tatts? check. Snake? Check. Fast car/motorcycle? Check. Human boyfriend lives alone in a kewl house? Check. Fae boyfriend? Check. Wolves? Check. Speshul powahs? Check. Evil wicked witch-fairy stepmom? Check. Set in high school? Check. Vague smexx0ring? Check. Orphaned girl? Check. ...eh, I didn't like it, and the best creative bits (Dona and the Summer Girls) went nowhere.

Some of Stewart's books are better than others. I prefer the ones set in England to the ones set in Greece, for example, but I always liked her prose and her somewhat unusual heroines. Books grounded in reality, I thought. And at the time I wasn't finding a lot of romantic suspense that wasn't historical. She was one of the few first-person authors I didn't mind reading.
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
I've never read Stiefvater or Black. Most fae I've read are the kinds that make you think they fart rainbows--Tolkien fey that speak in near Elizabethian language. So Marr was refreshing that way. I rather wish I could read more takes on fae--I've begun to feel so burned out on Vampires I may plunge a stake into the next book I see--yet I like urban fantasy--just sick of the fanged ones...

Some of Stewart's books are better than others. I prefer the ones set in England to the ones set in Greece, for example, but I always liked her prose and her somewhat unusual heroines. Books grounded in reality, I thought. And at the time I wasn't finding a lot of romantic suspense that wasn't historical. She was one of the few first-person authors I didn't mind reading.

What? You too? My friend Renita is one of those--in fact she flat out refuses to read in that point of view. I love it--both as a reader and writer--it comes naturally to me and in fact all the first person books on this list were my top-rated. Du Maurier was first person too.
pennswoods
Jun. 30th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
It's fun reading your perspective on the novels I'm familiar with. A few of these I've got on my shelf as keepers, and there are a several others by some of the same authors that I like so much better and that didn't make the list. However, my reason for liking them tends to be the narrative, the twists, certain sex scenes that hit my kinks and not necessarily the author's writing ability and adeptness at maintaining consistent POV, so I don't know that you'll find them as worthwhile.

I really like the primary and secondary romances in Brockmann's Over the Edge, which is a part of the same sharp-shooter series. She begins to flesh out a secondary gay character who appears across several of her subsequent books and whose romance is explored prominently. There are bits and pieces of other novels in this same series that have resulted in my hanging on to them, but I think this one overall is my favorite.

I also completely agree with you on Whitney, My Love, and almost feel I am reading two separate books with that one. I really don't like the whole, girl needs to suffer to lose weight/become more womanly/beautiful/mature/worthy of the hero. I think my favorite McNaught romance in this same vein is Almost Heaven because of the way it attempts to deal with pain, betrayal and redemption. Also, if I recall, nobody has to get raped to find true love.

I haven't read any Nora Roberts in a while because I always feel let down after reading her stuff. If I read too many of her romances, the predictability of the formula/structures and stock characters overwhelms potentially decent story-telling. That being said, the one keeper I have of hers is Montana Sky which I love for its atmosphere and mystery/graphically horrific elements.
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
there are a several others by some of the same authors that I like so much better and that didn't make the list.

Do tell--particularly if I didn't like the one I reviewed of theirs.

See, I'm not exactly impressed with the romance genre--but I do adore love stories--so I'm not adverse to trying, and I figure every genre must have good books--I just haven't found many in the romance aisle I ever liked.

However, my reason for liking them tends to be the narrative, the twists, certain sex scenes that hit my kinks and not necessarily the author's writing ability and adeptness at maintaining consistent POV, so I don't know that you'll find them as worthwhile.

It depends just how bad it is--and often I can forgive style issues if certain aspects of a book are really, really strong--like witty dialogue, memorable characters, great world-building, etc.

I really like the primary and secondary romances in Brockmann's Over the Edge, which is a part of the same sharp-shooter series. She begins to flesh out a secondary gay character who appears across several of her subsequent books and whose romance is explored prominently. There are bits and pieces of other novels in this same series that have resulted in my hanging on to them, but I think this one overall is my favorite.

I could see that potential in her just given she had an Asian character in the secondary romance and black secondary characters in Unsung Hero. Not something ordinarily I'd consider a big deal, but reading these romances one after another it seemed everyone was White and heterosexual--and for that matter either American or English (and either contemporary or regency era).

I also completely agree with you on Whitney, My Love, and almost feel I am reading two separate books with that one.

I remember really liking that one a lot when I read it a long, long time ago--I'm shocked how different my reaction is this time. I wondered if I read the same book. LOL.

I think my favorite McNaught romance in this same vein is Almost Heaven because of the way it attempts to deal with pain, betrayal and redemption.

I might try that one. It's not that I'd necessarily shy away from such themes, but if you're going to give me romance and want me to root for a happily ever after, then you're going to at least give me a reason to think things will change--that there's remorse and reformation. Just as with Snape ;-)

I haven't read any Nora Roberts in a while because I always feel let down after reading her stuff. If I read too many of her romances, the predictability of the formula/structures and stock characters overwhelms potentially decent story-telling. That being said, the one keeper I have of hers is Montana Sky which I love for its atmosphere and mystery/graphically horrific elements.

I've read two early romances of hers and one recent one--she's an author that has improved dramatically in style between those years, so it's almost we're talking about two different authors. That said, though I enjoyed Tribute enough to give it four stars, because I read it to the end and found some aspects that stick out in this genre, no I wouldn't call it a keeper.
annietalbot
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
Interesting list. You have some of my favorites here. And some of my not-so-favorites, as well. *grins

Definitely read more Brockmann. She has some amazing characters, and she doesn't let such issues as race and sexuality get in her way. Also, she has become a mistress of POV; there is a scene in one of her later novels in which the POV character is one who is facing away from someone else, but empathizing with him, and it is just amazing.

Jennie Crusie is another favorite. And I agree with you about the Chicken Marsala; I'm allergic to mushrooms, but I was craving it. Oh, and best wedding scene ever. Read her. She's a LOT of fun. And she is a master of her craft. (Also check out some of her essays on writing from her website. Good stuff.)

You can't go wrong with Heyer. Okay, well, maybe you can. But read An Infamous Army. And maybe The Spanish Bride. And and and and and...

Linda Howard and Iris Johanson can be very uneven. When they're good, they're very, very good.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips improves. I really enjoy her stuff.

Mary Stewart's another wonderful writer. I can't imagine NOT having read her.

J.R. Ward... I read her. I frequently enjoy her. But she's a little gimmicky. I really do like her, though. I just am not sure that she belongs on this list, you know?

Thanks for posting this! It gave me a lot of food for thought! (Oh, and try Barbara Samuel and Pat Gaffney, even though they're mostly in the General Lit shelves these days; two more really good writers who have come out of the romance genre.)
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Definitely read more Brockmann. She has some amazing characters, and she doesn't let such issues as race and sexuality get in her way. Also, she has become a mistress of POV; there is a scene in one of her later novels in which the POV character is one who is facing away from someone else, but empathizing with him, and it is just amazing.

I'll definitely do that then. She's one of the few on this list I was considering reading more of--especially considering that Unsung Hero was her first in the series so I thought that maybe she might improve. And I noted that about a presence of characters not just White--one thing that was striking to me reading through was that it was rare to see characters not White and not heterosexual--or that were set anywhere but America or Britain. David being Asian stuck out to me given that.

And she was even in Unsung Heroes a bit more adventuresome in style than most--that book involved 3 different narrative strands, one dating from the World War II era (all of which was put in italics, one stylistic tic I found annoying).

Jennie Crusie is another favorite. And I agree with you about the Chicken Marsala; I'm allergic to mushrooms, but I was craving it. Oh, and best wedding scene ever. Read her. She's a LOT of fun. And she is a master of her craft. (Also check out some of her essays on writing from her website. Good stuff.)

I'd read another by her and enjoyed her. But Bet Me just wowed me. Wonderful book. So yeah, she's one of those I'm definitely going to read more by. Bet Me was one of only 6 books I gave five stars--and 4 of those authors are no longer among the living and I'm not so sure I want to read more of Gabaldon. But Crusie from now on I can look forward to more from.

Linda Howard and Iris Johanson can be very uneven. When they're good, they're very, very good.

I didn't like Dream Man--which I'd tried before last time I decided to try romance. And I did have some issues with Mr. Perfect--but on the hole it was so much fun. With Johanson some things even in Ugly Duckling didn't hit me as plausible--and I dunno--she struck me as a bit bland somehow--problem I have with Roberts too.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips improves. I really enjoy her stuff.

I didn't like the characters of It Had to Be You--but some parts were laugh out loud funny, so maybe I'll give her another shot.

Mary Stewart's another wonderful writer. I can't imagine NOT having read her.

I'd read her Arthurian novels and loved them--just not her romances. I didn't know what I was missing.

J.R. Ward... I read her. I frequently enjoy her. But she's a little gimmicky. I really do like her, though. I just am not sure that she belongs on this list, you know?

Kenyon and Feehan just struck me as so awful--I'd read those two together and then Ward and she struck me as so much better it's not funny. I think I know what you mean about gimmicky, but she was good enough I just might try more of her. I liked how she depicted the world of the cops--so many, including in this list don't seem to have done their homework about law enforcement--she seems to have.

Oh, and try Barbara Samuel and Pat Gaffney, even though they're mostly in the General Lit shelves these days; two more really good writers who have come out of the romance genre.

Ah, but those often are the best ones--so I'll take a look. Haven't ever read them.
shiv5468
Jul. 1st, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
I back buttoned out of outlander within0the first twenty pages because I thought she was hugely historically inaccurate. Couldn't get past it.

Mary Stewart is very talented. And heyer. Though she's not to be blamed for chit so much as the third and fourthhand copyists who think that using that word is all that's required to establish setting. She also wrote a civil contract about a marriage of convenience that's deeply unromantic but emotionally real.

Jr ward is pish but crack. I keepreading to see if it gets better knowing it doesn't but somehow powerless to stop.
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
I back buttoned out of outlander within0the first twenty pages because I thought she was hugely historically inaccurate. Couldn't get past it.

The wealth of historical detail impressed me and seemed plausible--it seems I was lucky not to know enough to find it inaccurate :-)

It is often squicky btw--which is why I find myself a bit amused and bemused by her HORROR and SHOCK that anyone could "rape" her characters by writing fanfic about them. What could anyone possibly do to her characters she hasn't done already?

Mary Stewart is very talented. And heyer.

Agreed.

Though she's not to be blamed for chit so much as the third and fourthhand copyists who think that using that word is all that's required to establish setting.

Regency setting at that. I've seen it all over SSHG fic which of course is in the 20th--but I seem to recall native Brits mentioning "chit" isn't something a Brit would use today.

She also wrote a civil contract about a marriage of convenience that's deeply unromantic but emotionally real

I might try that next then--she does have an evident gift for humor and wit. And in some ways is more modern and original than many a romance writer today despite supposedly being much copied--believe me, reading some of the idiot romantic heroes in these books many a time I'd wished the heroine had shot him... Heyer got a fan forever in that scene...

Jr ward is pish but crack. I keepreading to see if it gets better knowing it doesn't but somehow powerless to stop.

Hee. I know what you mean. For a long time I was like that with LK Hamilton. Fortunately I'm recently reformed--I wasn't tempted to get her latest novel. THANK GOD
rhitroadkill
Jul. 1st, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
I've read several of the books you reviewed and many more by some of the authors and lots of the ones chosen weren't the best by a mile. If you are still looking for some romance:

Julie Garwood: The Bride, The Wedding, Ransom, The Secret (Scotland grouping but with humor and spunky female leads), Prince Charming, For The Roses (US Western 1800s, and For The Roses was actually made into a movie starring Jennifer Garner), and Heartbreaker and Mercy (modern thriller types)

Judith McNaught: I've read just about everything of hers *but* Whitney. I couldn't get past the first few pages. And I read a review about the rape and didn't want any part of that. Her modern ones are really good. The "trilogy" of "Paradise" "Perfect" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" was really good. "Perfect" was almost perfect.

I've read that Iris Johanson book but was more impressed by Sharon Sala who has a similar (but superior) style. "Missing" by Sala is more of a thriller than a romance, but it does have romance in it. Her three true romance novels are Diamond, Queen, and Lucky. And I loved those too. :)

I think I lasted just about as far as you did on the Woodiwiss book. A friend lent it to me and a few pages in, I wanted them all to die. A better "Norman Invasion" book was another Garwood called Honor's Splendor. I think it was set in that time frame. Either way, it was a much better book. And I got started reading another Woodiwiss without realising it was the same author and couldn't make it through it. I don't understand the slavering loyalty to that author.

Rachel Gibson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips both have better examples of their writing out there. All of SEP's books are readable, but some are only readable once. I really liked "First Lady" where the first lady (recently widowed by the assassination of the President) runs away to find a life of her own, and "Natural Born Charmer" which is a later episode in the football grouping. And there was one that was about the wife of a crooked evangelical preacher who had to return to her old home because she was a widowed mother with nowhere else to go was a really touching book.

And if you are wanting more to read by authors that didn't appear on those lists, Sharon Sala, Susan Mallery, Sherryl Woods, and Julie Ortolon are automatic purchases for me. I've never been disappointed by those authors and have been rationing their books because I know I don't have many left from any of those authors.

I only read the books that I get in my library box-sale boxes and then if the author captures me, I get more books by them. I had Feehan in the box, but the book was worth $5 in trade-in at the used book store and I needed credit fast. So we parted ways. Doesn't look like I missed too much. I think I'll use your reviews to cull a few from my boxes. :-)

Great reviews!
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
I think two books by Garwood is more than enough--especially since Slow Burn was a recent one--I doubt that, unlike Roberts, she's improved much in style. IxNay on Gibson I'm afraid too, unless others aren't just better but MUCH better. I'm willing to give a McNaught one more try--the dialogue in Whitmey, My Love *was* razor sharp witty so... Ditto with SEP--even if I didn't like the characters It Had to Be You was funny so I think her worth another shot. The one with the first lady sounds tempting. A style superior to Johanson sounds worth a try given Johanson was one of the cleaner styles to begin with on this list--so I'll try Sala (and Mallery and Woods and Ortolon--not authors I'd ever heard of, but that might be a good thing...)

And I got started reading another Woodiwiss without realising it was the same author and couldn't make it through it. I don't understand the slavering loyalty to that author.

I remember reading The Flame and the Flower, also by Woodiwiss a long time ago in a galaxy far away and hating it--but I was determined to give each book a real chance particularly since this is NOT a genre I tend to read in or like. I think we might just blame early imprinting for Woodiwiss fans--it's one of the oldest books on this list--I'd like to think it wouldn't be published now. But then Cole's A Hunger Like No Other is just as bad in terms of how the hero treats the heroine, and it was published in 2007 and won the "Hugo" of the romance genre so...
rhitroadkill
Jul. 1st, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
Regarding Garwood, her modern books have actually been getting worse in style. She's been phoning it in. The first two in the series were the best. (I actually got into reading romance novels because of Garwood. I saw the movie of the one book but missed the ending and looked on Amazon to find out how it ended. Everyone there said the book was better than the movie and they were right. And a new fan was born.) Out of her historicals, the one that was picked as one of the "best" is actually one of my least favorites of hers. But, really, there are more and better authors out there. Garwood is consistent in her decent quality (and some books have genuinely witty conversations and strong heroines) but other authors have overall better books.

It was an interesting challenge you set yourself. I don't know if I would have been able to do the same because often what the masses love, I don't bother with. I like to buck the trends. ;)
harmony_bites
Jul. 1st, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
Garwood is consistent in her decent quality (and some books have genuinely witty conversations and strong heroines) but other authors have overall better books.

Then I might as well pass. I'm really not a fan of this genre, even on this post, I was kinda grading on a curve--as I put these reviews on GoodReads and LibraryThing I find myself knocking off stars on the ratings--in fact I saw that I had already rated Gabaldon's Outlander only a 3 star, while here I put it as a five star--that's because that book doesn't stand out among books I've read--but *does* stand out as good compared to the romance books I read. I'd say the only real favorites I had coming out of this where I'm definitely going to look up the authors other books are Du Maurier, Stewart and Crusie--I had read books of theirs before, but not all of theirs. With others, I'm willing to try another book if someone tells me there's better by the author: Heyer, Brockman, SEP, McNaught, Howard in particular. But there's so much better historical fiction out there not on the romance aisle and so much better fantasies with romance than any of the paranormal romances on the list.

It was an interesting challenge you set yourself. I don't know if I would have been able to do the same because often what the masses love, I don't bother with. I like to buck the trends. ;)

Someone once pointed me to the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site--they delightfully smart and snarky and big defenders of the romance genre. I adored their book on romance novels, Beyond Heaving Bosoms--it explained so much about Snape/Hermione fanfic and fandom--seriously. I also tend to think of myself as a middlebrow genre reader--and obviously I love love stories--why would I have been so hooked on Snape/Hermione otherwise? But reading this list I do think I'm more likely, with a few recommended exceptions, to like fantasy with romance or literary fiction with romance etc than what winds up on the romance aisles. Generally the prose style really is terrible compared to sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc and I so often hate the off-the-rack alpha hero. But I know there have to be *some* out there with good styles telling good love stories. There have to be!
imhilien
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:49 am (UTC)
Good post. :) A friend recently recomended Jennifer Crusie's books to me, and I'm glad she did. :)

I have a soft spot for Victoria Holt, whose books were one of my first introductions to romance when I was young. I remember being freaked out by parts of 'The Road to Paradise Island' (sp?) but I still had to keep on reading. Now that's a writer.

I avoid Christine Feehan's books, ugh. Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote another dodgy book called 'The Flame and the Flower' where the heroine is erm, 'ravished' quite early in the book. :( I could only read the first couple of chapters.

I can recommend Linnea Sinclair's books - she writes sci-fi / romance (don't run away), but her heroines are witty and can take care of themselves fairly well. :) She has won a lot of awards and I think some of them are deserved.
harmony_bites
Jul. 3rd, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
A friend recently recomended Jennifer Crusie's books to me, and I'm glad she did. :)

I'd tried Crusie before and liked her, but I found Bet Me particularly impressive. Everyone else I marked five stars is dead sadly--but Crusie I can look forward to more from.

I have a soft spot for Victoria Holt, whose books were one of my first introductions to romance when I was young.

Mistress of Mellyn was one I loved when young that more or less held up when I reread it for this--I read it back to back with Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting and it suffered in comparison--the two stories have similarities and Stewart is by far imo the better writer--that said, I'd put Mistress of Mellyn top five among the books above. Not too shabby.

I avoid Christine Feehan's books, ugh

Ugh is right. If Mistress of Mellyn is top five Feehan was bottom five. I don't get how it was even published, let alone on a rec list. Ditto Woodiwiss.

I can recommend Linnea Sinclair's books - she writes sci-fi / romance (don't run away), but her heroines are witty and can take care of themselves fairly well. :)

Sinclair is actually recommended on the Fantasy list I'm working through for Wintertide. Unfortunately, that's one of those paranormal romances I mentioned in the post out of print. But I was planning when I got to her on the list to substitute another novel to try her out. Any specific novel you'd recommend trying by her?
imhilien
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
I haven't read Crusie's 'Bet Me', but I've enjoyed reading her 'Crazy for You' and 'Agnes & the Hitman' (I love that book just for the title, lol).

I liked reading 'Mistress of Mellyn', though I haven't read 'Nine Coaches Waiting'. Mary Stewart is not a favourite writer of mine, but I recognise that she wrote well, if that makes sense.

I like Sinclair's 'Games of Command' - Tasha, a former mercenary, finds herself having to work for her former nemesis, the icy Admiral Kel-Paten, not realising he has since developed feelings for her.

If it helps, the ladies at the website 'Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' have said they have a soft spot for the Admiral from this book. :-p
harmony_bites
Jul. 4th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
I've enjoyed reading her 'Crazy for You' and 'Agnes & the Hitman'

Haven't read either of those--but I look forward to catching up!

Mary Stewart is not a favourite writer of mine, but I recognise that she wrote well, if that makes sense.

It does--lots of times something about an author doesn't click with us. I have a good friend whose writing I admire and whose taste I trust--she also likes Holt but doesn't care for Stewart.

I like Sinclair's 'Games of Command' - Tasha, a former mercenary, finds herself having to work for her former nemesis, the icy Admiral Kel-Paten, not realising he has since developed feelings for her.

I look for it.

If it helps, the ladies at the website 'Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' have said they have a soft spot for the Admiral from this book. :-p

Heh. I'm a fan of the bitches. Otoh, I believe one of them had good things to say about Cole's A Hunger Like No Other. Ugh.
cleobulle
Aug. 5th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
Heh. I'm a fan of the bitches. Otoh, I believe one of them had good things to say about Cole's A Hunger Like No Other. Ugh.

Oh, lol. I actually forgot about that one when I wrote my message bellow. AHLNO is actually a favorite of mine. It's a guilty pleasure. It's over-the-top, the sex scenes are completely un-pc, it has a hero that would be at home in the dark ages and a completely clueless heroine who wouldn't survive on her own for more than a day but it's addictive. In RL I'd run away from a guy like the hero as fast as I could but in fiction it works for me.

Maybe it was to make up for Emma The Timid but Cole's next heroines are mostly tough as nails. There's no question as to who's the boss in their marriages.
harmony_bites
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
Maybe it was to make up for Emma The Timid but Cole's next heroines are mostly tough as nails. There's no question as to who's the boss in their marriages.

I prefer romances that set up the guy and gal as partners and equals--even if initially sparks fly and they misjudge each other a la Pride and Prejudice. And the beginning of AHLKO so nauseated me there's no way I'm ever picking up a book by Cole ever again.
cleobulle
Aug. 5th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
That's a very interesting list but, as a romance reader, I don't think it's very representative of the best the genre has to offer. That "Complete Idiot Guide thingy" isn't very up-to-date IMO.

In the list, there's only one book I loved to bits and that's BET ME (I have two copies of it). One I loved and that's Devil's Cub although it's not my favorite Heyer. And one author I really enjoy and that's Lisa Kleypas although I personally think Suddenly You is one of her weakest books. I really like her style but often think her books are "half-baked", as in they could stand to have 100-200 pages more to flesh out the characters and the story. As they stand, they leave you wanting more.

In the list you posted at the end of your post, I can't recommend Linnea Sinclair enough, especially her wonderful Games of Command. The hero is to die for and the heroine is competant. It's one of my favorite books. Ever.

I think you might also enjoy some more Amanda Quick books. Maybe in small doses though because her plots tend to be fairly similar with out of the norm heroines and heroes who have set their sight on them.

Another book I would recommend is As You Desire by Connie Brockway. Set in Egypt at the very end of the 19th century. Heroine is a genius at languages and hero is a charming rogue completely in love with her. The style is a bit too flowery though.

Have you heard of Loretta Chase? She used to write classic regencies but now she's goen a bit more mainstream. My favorites are The Devil's Delilah (out of print but I have an e-copy if you're interested), Mr Impossible (another book set in Egypt, I've a fondness for them) and her latest that came out a few days ago Last Night's Scandal.

I have tons more to recommend but I'd better stop here. I'll only add that I'm glad to finally meet someone who doesn't praise Mary Balogh to the skies. She's a favorite amongst romance readers but I could never see why. The only book she wrote that I enjoyed is Slightly Dangerous, the last book in the series you started. It's a Pride and Prejudice type of story.
harmony_bites
Aug. 6th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
That's a very interesting list but, as a romance reader, I don't think it's very representative of the best the genre has to offer. That "Complete Idiot Guide thingy" isn't very up-to-date IMO

It was published two years ago which means it probably reflects maybe five years back. Given other romance rec lists and listings of romance aisle romances it does seem to hit all the major writers though with the possible exception of Julia Quinn who I see listed on LibraryThing list of top-owned romances by members. I haven't tried her yet though--but a good friend is currently reading one of her books so if she likes her I might try her.

In the list you posted at the end of your post, I can't recommend Linnea Sinclair enough, especially her wonderful Games of Command.

I tried one of hers (other post) Accidental Goddess--which admittedly you and Imhilien tell me is her weakest book. But my problem wasn't so much the derivative setting or the characters or plot--it was the romance novel style--and few authors who start that way change that (although Nora Roberts has improved over the years--but still no one special imo) so unless you can tell me Sinclair's cut out the nauseating purple prose, I'm going to pass on her. Honestly, there's just so many books out there so much better and so little time.

Quick just wasn't anything special to tempt me to more either. Quite honestly given the great books out there and limited time the only authors on this post I'm sure I'll read more of are Crusie (like you loved Bet Me to pieces), Stewart and DuMaurier. I wasn't all that enchanted really by the much lauded Heyer, although I got a sense of what others like in her. But a friend is urging me to try Cotillion so I might give her another chance.

And maybe Brockman. Not a great style, but I did love her characters.

The Smart Bitches I know adore Loretta Chase, and she was listed, but for books already out of print. I think I tried her before but didn't care for her--but I might give her another chance someday.

I'll only add that I'm glad to finally meet someone who doesn't praise Mary Balogh to the skies.

Words cannot express how ridiculous I found her book on every level. Never, ever again.
cleobulle
Aug. 8th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
I'm in the minority about Julia Quinn. I know she has an almost goddess-like status in the romance community but I found her writing style awful. I tried several books by her in the hopes of finding something that I liked but no more. Won't get fooled again.

You're right, there are many famous authors on that list. Some of them are good but I think that the midlist authors who don't get much recognition often produce better quality books.

About Sinclair, I recall almost nothing about Accidental Goddess except that I didn't like it so I can't tell you if the style in Games of Command is different of not. I don't remember it being too purple prose though, if at all.

About Chase, I've got her out-of-print backlist in ebook format if you're interested. I could email you The Devil's Delilah. If you don't like it, you can cross Chase off your To Be Read authors.

I've been more or less disillusioned by the romance genre these past 2 or 3 years. I've been getting my romance fix in other formats, namely mangas and Asian dramas. The romance there is part of a whole. An added bonus. Asian dramas are *very* addictive.
harmony_bites
Aug. 12th, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
I've been more or less disillusioned by the romance genre these past 2 or 3 years. I've been getting my romance fix in other formats

I adore love stories--honestly I do. And I'm not a book snob--I love genre fiction like fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries and read few so-called "literary fiction." I'm a sap and like my happy endings--but even though periodically I do try romance aisle books people recommend it's hard for me to think of one book you can buy there I like. Even Crusie, Stewart and DuMaurier can be found in General Fiction--not the romance section--in my neighborhood Barnes and Noble at least.

Fortunately, there are a lot of fantasy authors that have elements of romance in their books that I love--like Gaiman, Armstrong, Shinn, Carey--so not hurting for a good love story really.
cleobulle
Aug. 12th, 2010 10:58 am (UTC)
I actually think that the most powerful love stories can be found in other genres and not in the romance genre itself.

I sometimes like mushy, fluffy romances but I prefer something epic and with substance to it. I have a better chance of finding that in genres where the authors know how to do their worldbuilding and write their characters as fully part of the world they created. You get a better sense of how they live and what's at stake for them. It's like having a taste of 3D after a diet of flat, uninspired 2D.

I'm not dissing the romance genre completely because it has thouroughly entertained me for years but my favorite stories weren't written as pure romances.

Could I tempt you to try an Asian drama or two or would you be opposed to the idea? I can tempt you with synopsis, caps and MVs if you tell me which genres you'd prefer. They're not big on Fantasy yet but there are a few dramas with that genre (not the best though, IMO) and it's becoming more and more popular. My favorites are the big historical epics personally. But there's a bit of everything from some fluffly fun to the gritty and dark. But be aware that it requires some serious free time as they can be anywhere between 16 and 60 episodes (60 eps is my limit and I won't start anything with more eps thant that) of one hour each and also that everything I'd rec would have at least some romance in it :o)
daisycb
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:40 am (UTC)
For Heyer, try Sylvester, Frederica, and The Grand Sophie, also The Reluctant Widow
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