At the Back Fence Issue#108

 (January 1, 2001)



My Year in Romance (by LLB):
When I look back over each year of romance reading, the results are always unique. When I first discovered romance, rather than venturing out to try a whole slew of new authors, I stuck with the first few I had discovered and read through part (or all) of their backlists. This turned out rather well, since I was lucky with many of my first selections. After that first year of “getting up to speed,” however, I focused on mostly newer books, although I did start to collect backlists of authors I fell in love with, but only read them bit by bit, so as not to suffer glomming burnout.

2000 was the first year in six when I read (just slightly) more romances published in earlier years (41) than I did current year romances (40). I can’t say it was a very successful venture, because, overall, I had more luck with Y2K romances than I did with those earlier ones, probably because a great many of those earlier books tended to be series titles. I read a lot of them these days, even though they are often nothing special. Is it just me, or is an average series title easier to read than an average full-length book? I did work my way through much of Patricia Oliver’s Regency Romance backlist this year, and I’m very glad I did!

I was able to add a few new series authors to my fairly selective list of series authors to read – long-time series readers will find nothing new in these names, but straglers like me might want to expand their horizons and include Sharon Sala, Justine Davis, and Marilyn Pappano (I’d begun reading her single title contemporaries in 1999). These authors tend to be of the comfort read variety for me. Carly Phillips, Jennifer Greene, and Gina Wilkins also made an impact on me; they might join my list in the future.

I’d like to briefly mention Zebra’s Bouquet line, which I hear is in danger of being cancelled. Jacquie D’Alessandro’s Kiss the Cook and Maddie James’ Falling for Grace were both good reads; while the former author has also had books published by other publishers, I think all of James’ titles have been published by Zebra. If the other Bouquet title by her I found is as good as Falling for Grace, I might even break down and buy her Precious Gems titles! Sadly, the Marcia Evanick titles I tried in the Bouquet line did not work, although I’ve now found three of six of her earlier Loveswept titles to be pretty entertaining.

I truly loved only three books all year – the first was Anne Stuart’s To Love a Dark Lord, published in 1994. The second was Jillian Hunter’s Indiscretion, published this past spring. The third was Joy Fielding’s The First Time, a fall release, and a non-romance title.

Several fiction titles besides the Joy Fielding deserve mention for this past year: Susan Wilson’s Hawke’s Cove; Jody Picault’s Plain Truth; Patricia Gaffney’s Circle of Three; Ruth Wind’s (aka Barbara Samuel) In the Midnight Rain; and Christy Yorke’s The Wishing Garden. None of these titles received the publicity of Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist; I thought each was a far better read.

I thoroughly enjoyed a substantial number of romances in 2000. Madeline Hunter made an impact on everyone I know who tried any of her medieval trilogy; I came away from By Possession excited in a way few medievals that are not romps have left me. Lorraine Heath’s historical western Never Love a Cowboy was terrific; it earned DIK status from another of our reviewers. Susan Grant’s debut novel, which I actually read in 1999, and its follow-up (The Star King), were both exciting; since I’m not a big reader of either time travel or futuristic romance, the fact that I enjoyed both these titles also thrilled me. Catherine Coulter’s The Courtship (I know I’m in the minority on that one), Susan Krinard’s Once a Wolf, and Christina Dodd’s Rules of Surrender were enjoyable and worth mention as well.

It was more than a year ago that I first mentioned both The Courtship and Gaelen Foley’s Prince Charming; Foley’s book remains one of the best of the dark romances I read with a Y2K pub date. And while I didn’t enjoy Deborah Simmons’ The Gentleman Thief as much as my ATBF co-columnist did – Robin granted it DIK status – it came quite close. Though it faltered for me just before the end, this regency-set historical cements it for me: Deborah Simmons is the biggest buried treasure I know.

I continue not to particularly care for romantic suspense, and yet two of my recommended reads from 2000 were Andrea Kane’s Run for Your Life, and to a slightly lesser extent, Vicki Hinze’s All Due Respect.

My success with e-books remains practically non-existent. I reviewed four e-books for the magazine I write for in 2000; the best was Karin Huxman’s ultimately average Entangled. Here’s what I wrote my editor to accompany my review: “Of all the e-books I’ve read, this one isn’t the worst. How’s that for a recommendation? It actually showed some promise, and had there been a decent editor working with the author, I think it could have been a fairly good read.” My grades for the other three titles ranged from C- to F.

Among the superbly horrible romances I read this year were Catherine Lanigan’s California Moon, now tied as the worst romance I have ever read, Joan Johnston’s The Cowboy (surprising since I’ve enjoyed her in the past),and Cait London’s It Happened at Midnight. My biggest disappointments for the year were Dara Joy’s High Intensity and Mary Jo Putney’s The Burning Point.

Who is missing from this year’s list of especially recommended reads? For me it was Nora Roberts. I did enjoy two of her series titles (Enchanted and Night Shield) a great deal, but for the first time in many years, there’s no Nora Roberts DIK on my list.

I’m always glad that the magazine I review for sends arcs far in advance; having a jump start by a couple of months invariably gives me something to look forward to in each new year. I’ve already read five 2001 titles and each was good, earning some level of B from me. My early 2001 recommendations are:

Here’s hoping that 2001 proves a better year for romance reading for me than did 2000!



Read any good books lately? (by Robin Uncapher)
Last year I sat down and wrote my first column for At the Back Fence. It was called 1999 Buried Treasures, and I was simply a guest columnist at the time. I wrote that column after noticing that, even though people on line talk more about midlist authors than most readers, many of the top picks in AAR’s yearly reader polls went to best selling “blockbuster” authors. I wrote the column to highlight some of the great books that readers might not have heard too much about.

I also wrote the column to talk about the reading experiences of some of the other AAR reviewers. So often a reviewer comes across one or two books by midlist or brand-new authors that make a big impression. When this happens the reviewer is excited. She writes a glowing review, thrilled that she can tell people about this great new writer. Then she waits excitedly to hear the comments of other readers. And – drum roll here – nothing happens. It’s nobody’s fault, of course, but it is a wonderful excuse for us to do this column and talk about our favorites.

So this column is something of an indulgence. It’s the last shot that many of us have to tell you about our reading in the year 2000 and some terrific, lesser-known, books. Later, on the Message Board, we hope that you’ll tell us about how you saw the year 2000 and also tell us about the lesser-known books, by midlist authors, that you think deserve consideration in our annual reader poll.

When I started asking myself what buried treasures I had read, I found myself reflecting on this past year’s reading experience. It was an interesting year for me, my second “full” year reading romance. I read fewer books this year, mainly because career and family made it impossible to match the number of books I had read the previous year. While in 1999 I read 124 books, in the year 2000 I read 82, not many for a romance book addict but still more volumes than I ever read when I was reading general nonfiction and literary fiction.

My record keeping for the year 2000 is also inferior to my 1999 system. Sometime in July, computer problem killed my year 2000 listing of what I read. Having spent some time reconstructing, however, it appears that about 80% of the books I read were single titles and of those, half were contemporaries and half historicals. The vast majority of the historicals were set in the regency period but I did read a few American Historicals and a few European Historicals set both prior to and after the Regency. The remainder were fairly evenly split between Regency Romances and series titles.

Some of my most enjoyable reading was spent discovering authors and reading their backlists. I was still pretty new to the genre when the year began and it was fun to read Linda Howard and see what all the fuss was about. I read Dream Man but my favorites were her two series romances the much collected Mackenzie’s Mountain and Duncan’s Bride. I liked Linda Howard’s books but I didn’t love them. Ruth Wind’s books on the other hand, had a really strong effect. I thanked heaven and AAR Editor Ellen Micheletti for introducing me to this talented author and have since glommed some of her series books. My three favorites by her are my three favorite series romances to date – Reckless, Her Ideal Man and Jezebel’s Blues.