Results of In-House Style Poll

July 1st, 2002:

Below you’ll find the in-house results of our recent style poll. Results of larger reader style poll, for which we received a tremendous number of ballots, will be reported on July 15th.

First up is a chart, which details the votes for the 20 at AAR who participated in the poll. Next is a round-robin discussion, which in some instances duplicate comments included in Mary Sophia Novak’s ATBF segment analyzing the results.

Ballot Key4 Always or Almost Always Like3 Like More Often Than Not2 Sometimes Like, Sometimes Don’t Like1 Rarely Enjoy/Didn’t Like the One Book Tried0 Never TriedJ Jumped the Shark (used in conjunction with a number)


Jen SHeidiMarianneEllenShelleyJennifer KMary KatarinaRachelTeresaLizBlytheRobinSandiJaneAndreaLLBSandyBessieKelly
S. Brown2J00214J001122J042J3J12J20
Jen SHeidiMarianneEllenShelleyJennifer KMaryKatarinaRachelTeresaLizBlytheRobinSandiJaneAndreaLLBSandyBessieKelly


Robin:I found this fascinating! I agreed with Jennifer K more than with anyone -12 times. Next I agreed with Jen S and Bessie 10 times. Then I agreed with Ellen 9 times and with Shelly 8 times.I read everyone’s reviews but I honestly never realized this. I think that is because I focus on the times I strongly agree with one recommendation or another. I knew that Ellen and I would agree a lot because she loves Putney and Carla Kelly. Rachel and I agreed 6 times. I assumed it would be more because I’ve agreed with her so strongly on things like The Bronze Horseman and Judith Duncan. Also I’ve found that when Rachel really likes something I often do as well. This same goes for Colleen’s recommendations on nonromance books. I like many of her choices very much.

Laurie and I only agreed four times. I laughed at this because Laurie has tried to convince me for years that we had very different tastes. Whenever she said this I focused on what we agreed on and said I didn’t think so. But it really was true when I looked at the numbers.

LLB:Actually, when I did the matching, Robin had five of the same numbers as I did; the one difference was she had a “J” for one and I didn’t. My closest matches were from Jane and Sandi, both of which surprised me. Jane seems to like a lot of the books we both read more than I do, and though this poll doesn’t reflect it, she likes mystery and I don’t.When Robin and I talked about this, I told her I wasn’t surprised more people didn’t match me because most of you have “higher” tastes than I do. I’m just about the only peasant in the bunch.

The reviewer who has the least number of matches with me is Heidi, which again is not surprising to me. Heidi, in my estimation, often enjoys romances harkening back to the more epic style than I prefer. Some of the authors she has enjoyed in the past are among those I least enjoy.


Jane and Sandi10 matches
Bessie9 matches
Rachel, Liz, and Andrea7 matches
Shelley, Teresa, Blythe, and Kelly6 matches
Marianne and Robin5 matches
Jen, Jennifer, and Mary4 matches
Ellen3 matches
Katarina2 matches
Heidi1 match


Blythe:My match-up winner was Sandy with 12, followed closely by Liz with 11. I knew Sandy and I liked some of the same stuff, but I had no idea that Liz and I had similar opinions. Coming up next were:


Jane10 matches
Ellen, Jennifer, and Bessie8 matches
Rachel and Andrea7 matches
Jen, Heidi, Shelley, Rachel, Teresa, Robin, Sandi, and Andrea7 matches
Marianne, Mary, and LLB5 matches
Kelly2 matches

I’m not sure what this means. I noticed that I was more likely to agree with people when I put a 4 or a 2. Another funny observation was that Marianne and I only agreed on the authors we sometimes liked or didn’t like; we didn’t share one single favorite. I thought I would have had more in common with Mary, since we both love Danelle Harmon. I guess this poll kind of confirms the feeling that I’ve had for years, which is that there is no reliable way to predict what you are going to like or who you will agree with. I shared 4 scores with many people on Robb, Gabaldon, Brockmann, and Kelly, and I don’t really know that that means anything. Jen S and I both love Brockmann, Gabaldon and Robb, so why doesn’t she love SEP? Why don’t I like Howard as much as she does? Who knows? I looked at Jen’s scores more carefully because I expected her to match with me more often than she did. What I did find was that we didn’t drastically deviate from each other very often – SEP was the exception. Of those we both read, our scores were usually one number apart. So while we may not have had the most matches, I would still see our tastes as similar. Quite a contrast from Marianne.

Rachel:What I did to test an author’s “likability” was to count up the number of 3’s And 4’s. The authors with the most number of 4’s were Gabaldon and Robb. They both had 10. Brockmann had 8 4’s, Kelly and Phillips both had 7. Crusie, Garwood, Hamilton, Heath, Heyer, Howard, and Putney all had 6.But then I factored in the 3’s because 3 is still a “like” rating. The authors with the most 3’s and 4’s and Robb and Howard and Phillips. They all have 14. Then come Crusie and Putney (13), Brockmann and Quick (12), and Quinn and Gabaldon (11). Considering that there are only 20 reviewers represented and some of them haven’t read a particular author, 11 is a pretty high approval rating.

Authors with the least amount of approval are Spencer, Seidel, Lowell, Evanovich, Coulter, Schone, and Brown, but almost no one has read Seidel, and Spencer, Lowell, and Evanovich have many 0’s as well. The least liked authors appear to be Brown, Coulter, and Schone, with Coulter coming out on top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it).

Marianne:Of the 20 that responded to the poll, the only author we have ALL read is SEP. Other most-read authors are: Balogh, Brockmann, Brockway, Coulter, Crusie, Deveraux, Dodd, Garwood, Howard, Ivory, Kleypas, Krentz, Putney, Quick, Quinn, Roberts, and Schone. These are authors that 16 or more of us have read (out of the 20). I should add that Kelly throws the numbers off a little because she’s read so few books out of this group of authors, but then, there are no numbers for Nora, so this may balance things out.SEP received 7 4’s and 7 3’s, which gives her a 70% approval rating. Robb (read by 15 of us), received 10 4’s and 4 3’s, giving her a 93% approval rating. Roberts (read by 19 of us), did not fare as well at all. She received only 3 4’s and 6 3’s for an approval rating of 47%. Rachel’s Ms. Seidel was read by only 3 of us, but received 2 4’s and a 3, which gives her an approval rating of 75% (higher than SEP).

As for jumping the shark, 18 authors had some kind of vote. Coulter and Deveraux had the most at 8 each, and Dodd was next with 7; Quick had 6. This means that 44% believe Coulter has jumped, 47% believe Deveraux has, 38% think Dodd has, and 33% think Quick has.

Rachel:I counted up my votes shared, and it was pretty interesting. I agreed the most times with Ellen (not a shock). She and I agreed 11 times. Then I agreed with Mary 10 times, though many of our non-matches were pretty darn close. Again, this was no surprise. I think I agree most with Mary about authors I LOVE.I was interested to learn that I agreed 9 times with Jennifer K and Teresa. Teresa and I have in common a bunch of authors we dislike. I also have many mostly disliked authors in common with Kia (8). Shelley and I agreed 8 times. I’ve taken many paranormal recs from her and enjoyed those books.

I agreed 7 times with Jane and 7 times with Blythe and 6 times with both Marianne and Robin. Robin and I had a couple of close calls. She likes McNaught, Putney, and Quinn more than I do, and I like Ruth Wind more.

A big surprise was that I only agreed twice with Sandi M. I’ve read a lot of her category recs and enjoyed them. It’s also ironic that she liked the most authors (23 4’s), and yet none of my 4’s matched hers.

Otherwise, Mary, I had no idea you liked Julie Garwood. I always think of Garwood and Kinsale as being on opposite sides of a spectrum, but if you like them both, I guess they’re not.

And look at all those people who have never read Seidel! She’s the least read author on the list. I guess I have failed in my duty to persuade others that she is a major talent and must be read.

Kelly:In the online community, noses sometimes turn up at the mention of Julie Garwood. I’ve heard all the complaints: Her research is flawed. She writes the same character. Her prose style is awful. She’s just as bad as Connie and Cassie, and really, shouldn’t you be reading Eva Ibbotson instead?As someone who’s always prided herself on a certain amount of intelligence, the criticism stings. I recognize that Garwood’s writing has a lot of flaws. She has certain stylistic elements I call “writing tics” that crop up in her books again and again:

  • The Contrast. This one is usually over the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. It’s actually pretty funny the first few times, but after a dozen or so it gets predictable.

    “Tomorrow was going to be the best day of her life.”
    “It was the worst day of her life.” – The Bride

    “She’d married a good-hearted man.”
    “Twas the truth she was married to a gargoyle.” – Saving Grace

  • The Interjection. Practically all of a character’s external or internal monologues, even the shortest ones, begin with an interjection – an “aye,” a “nay,” or a “Lord.”

And this doesn’t even begin to get into the Garwood character types: the sweet, feisty heroine with convoluted logic and a funny flaw like a bad sense of direction (The Bride), a tendency to lose things (The Wedding), or incredible clumsiness (The Gift), and the gruff but lovable hero.So why do I keep coming back to her books (even though I space reading them out so I won’t notice the tics as much)? Because Garwood makes me believe in her characters, despite their similarities to each other, and root for their happy endings. Garwood’s humor and affection for her characters shine through. It doesn’t hurt that her heroes and heroines genuinely like each other and work together, which I always find refreshing.

Garwood’s prose style may not be the most elegant of romance novelists, but I always get a chill up my spine when I read this scene from the end of Saving Grace, my favorite romance novel and the book that made me a dedicated romance fan:

“Will it take you a lifetime to get around to telling your wife you love her?”
She reached up and gently stroked the side of his face. Her voice was filled with tenderness when she said, “I love you, Gabriel MacBain.”His voice shook when he answered with his own pledge. “Not nearly as much as I love you, Johanna MacBain.”

And then she was in his arms and he was kissing her and hugging her and telling her in broken whispers how much he loved her and how he knew he was damned unworthy of her but it didn’t matter because he would never let her go and how she had become the center of his life.

If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is.

LLB:The writing “tic” you mentioned that occurs at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next is something I actually *look forward to* in her books! And the individual heroine quirks I like as well because they take her absolutely gorgeous and sweet and kind heroines and make them less than perfect.Look, there’s got to be a reason why she’s as huge an author as she is – and we’re talking way above Connie and Cassie. I think she may have been the first to write the humorous historical, at least that’s the impression I got when I interviewed her. She pre-dates Amanda Quick by a good number of years.

LLB:I love creating polls, but taking them is so hard! My Evanovich choice, for instance, is based on her old Loveswepts rather than her Stephanie Plum series, which I have tbr, but haven’t yet gotten around to trying. I like Gaffney’s women’s fiction more than her historical romance, but the historical romance I tried by her is not considered her finest. Some of my zeros are active choices – I chose not to read J.D. Robb because I really don’t care for romantic suspense even though Nora Roberts is a favorite for me. As for Schone, I tried to read one of her books once, and couldn’t get past a few pages. So it’s kind of snarky for me to say she’s a 0/J, but there you have it. In Stuart’s case, I don’t know if she’s jumped because I only read her historicals and she hasn’t done one in a while.

Rachel:I gave Gaffney a 4 based on my love for her historicals. I loved them so much that I decided she merited the grade even though I don’t feel the same way about her newest stuff. And Coulter only got a 2 from me based on her early regencies. All her other stuff would be a 1. I’ve actually hated everything she’s written since she broke with Signet.

Blythe:The one I had the hardest time with was MJP. I love all her Fallen Angel books, and Shattered Rainbows is probably my all-time favorite romance. But it’s her recent books that I just couldn’t ignore. I ended up going with a 3 because I keep thinking about how I would grade her books now. I am afraid she’s jumped the shark, but I thought if I put a J down that would make it true. Superstitious sports enthusiasts have nothing on me.

Marianne:My take on MJP is this: When it came to her historicals, she had few equals. Had. This was up until about three or four years ago. Her latest historicals have lacked that certain something that the Fallen Angels stories had (But, who could possibly equal those guys?).Her more recent efforts have shown her desire to change locations and settings, but they haven’t been successful to me. So, as far as historicals go, I think she’s already jumped the shark there, and that’s okay with her. Her heros have become rather bland and the love scenes have left me a little cold.

As far as the contemporary thing, I can see what she’s trying to do, but she hasn’t let common sense prevail. Plus, she’s still got an underlying shadow, an essence if you will, of her historical past. Her contemporary “voice” still has the ring of Regency England to it.

IF she can do some tweaking, and IF she can create some modern Fallen Angels, then she’ll be okay. These are big IFs, and The Burning Point was a huge slap of reality for her, I’m sure. Readers just didn’t like it and she didn’t seem to understand why they didn’t. That puzzled me and still does. She defended her stance and didn’t seem to grasp what her readers were saying. What she did was basically take a concept that worked in The Rake and tried to modernize it, but while many women have lived with recovered alcoholics successfully, spousal abuse is too close to home for too many women today. The memory of being physically hurt never goes away, and she may not realize just how many women face that kind of life every day. I think MJP badly misjudged her audience on that one.

I’m rooting for her. I’m hoping she’ll put her energies into it, figure it out, and go. But my deep down inner instinct self tells me it’s not going to happen, but I’m hoping all the same.

Kelly:You know, I have tried and tried to like MJP. I know I should. I know she’s a good writer. And hey, I thought the first half of The Bartered Bride was fascinating. But something about her characters just leaves me cold. I can appreciate her books, but I don’t get involved in them. I don’t daydream about what her characters are up to in five years. For all the flaws I can intellectually see in Garwood’s writing, I can just picture her characters having a merry time in the Highlands in their HEA.And Marianne, I agree totally with what you said about The Burning Point. (It didn’t help that I thought the characters were lacking in common sense and let crazy Daddy control them from beyond the grave.) I had the same feelings about Dearly Beloved. I feel as if MJP is getting these ideas in a cocoon where no one she cares about has ever had to deal with rape or spousal abuse.

But going back to Garwood – she was a hard call for me because I have read some of hers that I wasn’t enthusiastic about at all. But she’s written more of my keepers (and near-keepers) than any other author, so I gave her a 4.

I did feel somewhat justified by the lack of enthusiasm for Schone. Has anyone ever jumped the shark so fast? I think she’s a one-trick pony, and I don’t like her one trick. I find her books homophobic, and I couldn’t get past that when I read The Lady’s Tutor because it bothered me so much. (no offense to any of her fans)

Lowell was easy for me to rate – I like her medievals a lot, but I think her heroes should stay safely in the past. Funny because I actually think her historical heroes aren’t as piggish as her contemporaries. I still think it’s a shame her contract is for contemporaries only. Based on my matches, Samuel/Wind, Crusie, and Kelly are going to the top of my TBR; although Heyer is probably too “refined,” if that’s the word, for my tastes…for some reason I associate “refined” books with Rachel. And given that Rachel is so enthusiastic about her, I will give Seidel a try at some point. On the poll in general, I do think that Carla Kelly deserves special credit. About three-fourths of us had read her, and of those, not one reviewer gave her a 1. I think that says a lot.

You know, considering I thought I was going to be an academic, you would think that I would like the “intellectual” romances. And I was wild about the Ivory I read. But when it comes to romances, I guess I’m just content to with what Laurie calls the lowest common denominator. Or am I? Actually, I think Quinn is brainier than she gets credit for. I like funny, and people don’t tend to think of funny as intellectual.

Rachel:I think that Seidel might work for some of the people who like Kinsale, Kelly, Gaffney, and Ivory. She doesn’t write like any of these, but somehow I think if you like them, you might like Seidel. I think she’s my favorite romance author. I haven’t read anything by her that I didn’t like, although I haven’t yet read her newest, Please Remember This. I’ve heard from several sources that it was her weakest effort to date, and I haven’t wanted to read it for that reason. But I will eventually.Kelly, I always smile when I hear authors I like referred to as being refined or for intellectual tastes only. I don’t think I’m a dumb bunny, but I would never, ever classify myself as intellectual. To me the word intellectual seems to have connotations of elitism, snobbery, and pretentiousness – all things Midwesterners frown upon. Call me a hayseed, but don’t call me an intellectual! Surprisingly, based on my other favorite author preferences, I should probably like Heyer, but I don’t.

Jen:With 3 exceptions (Gaffney, SEP, and Dodd) the authors I gave a 1 I’ve only been able to read one book by and knew immediately they weren’t my cup of tea. With Gaffney and SEP I read more than one book because the books I chose were part of series. With Dodd I appreciated the first book, but well I was pretty public about my issues with the second book I read.With the books I liked, the only one I’m iffy on is McNaught I wasn’t thrilled with Remember When, haven’t read Night Whispers (it’s been on my tbr pile for two years now), but what I’ve loved by her I’ve really loved and I’m with holding judgement if she’s jumped the shark or dropping her down to a 3.

Devereux got the 3 because she was the first romance author I ever read and I have fond memories of her books. I’m not sure I’d love her older stuff if I discovered it now, and the fact she has jumped the shark so blatantly.

The authors I gave a 4 aren’t always perfect, but even when they write a substandard book it’s usually 10 times better than a lot of other authors in my opinion. Where as with a 3 or 2 author, there was some book I couldn’t find anything worth keeping.

Rachel:At the end of 2001, I spent a couple of hours figuring out my own personal stats from my database. Though you wouldn’t guess it from my pitiful, grudging, disgruntled 2.1 score, I was actually pleased with what I was reading. I think I gave something like 48% of them were ones I’d read again or keep (B- or better). I also have pretty positive reviewing stats. According to Laurie’s last Reviewer Scorecard, I had given 54% of the books I reviewed a B or better. These stats are a bit elevated, of course, because I review a lot of unassigned books, but still, I don’t think I’m a curmudgeonly reviewer most of the time.I just don’t happen to like a lot of the most popular authors. I made up the original poll list by going down the DIK page and figuring out which of those authors had gotten four or more (and in some cases 3) DIK’s. It was just coincidence that I had read them all. I seem to really like category books by certain smaller authors, paranormals, and women’s fiction/chick lit. Because most of the authors of these sub-genres were not on the poll list, my dissatisfaction seems greater than it actually is.

Robin:I’m not sure all the grades can be compared in terms of romance. Most of my favorite authors were on the list so for me the average is probably valid. But I can’t help but think that for people who love less mainstream writers, more series romance for example, it might be less a reflection of how they feel about romance and more of a reflection of how they feel about these particular authors.

LLB:Here’s what I think it shows, and I came to this conclusion after reading Rachel and Robin’s comments.There are some of us whose tastes may better match the mainstream romance reading public than others. I’d put both Sandi and Sandy in this category, and in the instance of Sandi, I’d probably go further and say that she tends to enjoy more of what she reads than some of the more curmudgeonly among us.

Others, like Rachel, may have enjoyed more books than she didn’t enjoy, but those books may not have been by the most popular romance authors.

I was not surprised that Sandy (3.3), Sandi (3.2), and Andrea (3.0) had the highest average scores nor was I surprised that Kia (1.7) had the lowest. It was interesting learning about Bessie (3.1) , because we just don’t know all that much about her. Any thoughts?

Marianne:Sandi and Sandy are a lot happier than the rest of us, overall. Scores below a 3 say to me, hm, things could be a lot better. So, are the publishers at fault, or are some of the industry’s most popular and/or best writers not all that good?

Sandi:Speaking for myself, I’d have to say that I’m just that easy.

Andrea:I don’t think you can really judge that by an average score. As I noted in my comments on my ballot, a few of the authors I voted for I’ve read, say 2 of their books and liked them okay, but haven’t read others. SO they earned a high-ish grade. Also, I only still read 15 authors on this list, and some of those are favorites that I’ll probably always like. So what it says to me is that my favorites are still delivering, not that I’m happier with the genre. I just know what I like and read it.

Katrina:As for my having the “honor” of being the most difficult to satisfy; I read a lot in specific genres, (like practically no contemps/series, and those I try I tend to dislike) as well as a lot of what can be seen as borderline romance – my latest glom and auto-buy is Alice Borchardt, and I read a lot romancy fantasy, used to love McCaffrey, for instance. And of those I’ve tried of the Big Names, either I don’t like’em or it’s a case of hits-and-misses, so for me, the poll’s choices simply don’t reflect my reading preferences.

Kelly:Personally, I think the poll results reflect more of a dissatisfaction with the big-name/hardcover authors than the genre as a whole. Lots of us have authors we love who are buried treasures (or rising stars, or stalled stars) who weren’t on the list. And even for those of us who don’t think they’ve jumped the shark, I doubt there are any of us who honestly don’t think the best work of Deveraux, Coulter, McNaught, Garwood, et al is behind them.

LLB:When you look at the individual staffers who participated in this poll, you can see that more of us chose the two positive categories than the two negative ones. Seven chose the “Liked More Often than Not” category over any other category (discounting zeros). Likewise, another seven of us awarded “Always or Almost Always Like” more than any other option. Which means that 70% of us were pretty pleased with this list of authors as opposed to only 30% who found this group of authors more wanting than not.The aggregate picture looks different, though, and shows that the spread between choices is not all that large:


Always or Almost Always Like28%
Like More Often Than Not29%
Like Sometimes Like, Sometimes Don’t Like23%
Rarely Enjoy/Didn’t Like the One Book Tried20%

Philosophically speaking, this doesn’t address the zeros, which in some instances I feel are conscious choices. In other words, just as I might choose to read a certain author, there are other authors I might choose not to read for a variety of reasons as opposed to just having “not gotten around to it.”

Robin:Mary, your part of the column made me understand a lot about why I like certain things. I am clearly a “Maximum Introspection” person and that, I can see, is the key to what I really love. I don’t mind books where very little happens! In fact sometimes, if I really like a book, and something starts happening, I think – oh darn, just when things were getting good!

Rachel:I looked through my ratings. I gave 4’s to only 5 authors: Gaffney, Ivory, Kelly, Kinsale, and Seidel. I gave 3’s to 7: Brockmann, Crusie, Hamilton, Morsi, SEP, Samuel, and Spencer. It was actually easier for me to determine why I didn’t like certain authors than it was for me to define what I liked so well about the others, but looking them all over, I was struck again by something I’ve been mulling over for awhile: I seem to have a real dislike for melodrama.I don’t like very much action. I don’t like car chases, kidnappings, sword fights, catastrophic gambling losses, rape and pillage. I seem to be attracted to books in which nothing much really happens. Or, if stuff happens, the confrontations that result are low-key and rather bloodless. Or, if all else fails and there’s rather a lot of action and a surplus of blood and guts, then the whole thing has to be darned unpredictable. I can’t stand predictability. I also can’t stand cardboardy, black-mustachioed villains. Hate those. If the villain has any tendency towards facial hair-a black goatee, perhaps, or darkish muttonchops – if he has even the slightest desire to laugh with diabolical glee into the night, chances are, I’m not gonna like the book.

I think that my dislike for action explains why I don’t care for most of romantic suspense. It’s rather easy to see why I don’t care for Linda Howard; her books tend to be filled with action and characters who feel rather than obsess. It’s less easy to explain why I like Brockmann. With her I think it comes down to sense of humor. I enjoy her characters’ observations so much that I’ll put up with some violence and a plot-driven story. Laurell K. Hamilton also writes roller-books, but you just never know what’s going to happen next with her, and I find this type of raw unpredictability intriguing.

Perhaps this also explains why I was so underwhelmed by the newest Rachel Gibson, even though it received DIK status here. What I enjoy about her writing is her characterization and her dialogue. Lola Carlyle was almost all action. I want her to go back to writing stories where the hero and heroine are the story. If you think about her earliest books, Simply Irresistible and Truly, Madly Yours, not too much is happening in the stories. She just throws characters with personal conflicts or grudges into a constrained situation. The joy of the story is watching how they interact. I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is really great at writing the nothing-happens romance. I didn’t care that Heaven, Texas had no real plot. I just wanted to see Bobby Tom squirm some more.

Jennifer Crusie’s books are a bit more plot driven and structured, but what’s happening is still only an excuse to showcase her characters. Did anyone really read Welcome to Temptation for the murder mystery? I certainly didn’t. I read and loved it because Sophie, Phin, Amy, Wes, and Davy were all so terribly fascinating to observe.

I seem to be drawn to very introspective characters which likely explains why I love Seidel so much. Her characters don’t just feel, they feel and then they think about why they’re feeling that way, examining themselves down to minute psychological components. Gaffney, Kelly, Ivory, and Kinsale are all good at introspection (as Mary has pointed out), and that’s I think why I like them. Heck, even Anita Blake, for all she goes around kicking everyone’s ass, is really quite introspective in many ways. All of the other authors I haven’t mentioned but still liked-Morsi, Samuel, and Spencer-also give over a fair amount of page space to their characters’ state of mind.

Action emphasized over introspection may be the reason I can’t get into most traditional Regency Romances these days. They all seem like mini-historicals, not the character studies they used to be. The format just doesn’t allow enough space for all the action and development of character, and I think most traditional Regency authors choose the action option nowadays. I’ve been convincing myself that these books no longer work for me, but last weekend I read a couple of Sheila Simonsons that were written in the 1980’s and I liked them very much. So I think it’s more that I don’t like how they are being written now.

Jen:Rachel’s post really clarified for me why I don’t like Gaffney-Ivory and have little or no desire to seek out Seidel and Kinsale, I’m not big on introspection and books where nothing much happens.Looking at the authors I really like and those I gave 3’s to, like: Brockmann, Howard, Robb, etc…a common thing is there books have action. Which could also explain why I like Gabaldon because you barely go five pages without something happening, especially in “Outlander”. I like page turners, books I can’t put down. That was the problem I found reading Gaffney is I could put the book down, walk away, clean house and come back read a page get bored again and go watch tv. I don’t mind introspection, but I want the characters to work things outside themselves as well. I want them to talk to each other at the very least.

I also like if there is some humor in the book, even if it’s not humorous. Look at the Robb books, they deal with dark subject matter (heck the title – In Death, does not inspire the warm fuzzies), but the dark tone is balanced by things like Eve’s dry biting sarcasm. I also prefer humor based on sarcasm and irony over slapstick. I think Evanovich is my only exception to the slapstick rule.

It’s really had to say why I like a book, I just know when I do. Though I tend to lean towards books with action, smart ass characters, and some undefineable something, there was just some emotional punch when I was done with it.

What I don’t like is books where you can read 20 pages and nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero happens. I don’t want endless pages of pointless description. I don’t like books where characters spend more time obsessing over something that one good conversation with the hero/heroine or a secondary character would solve. I don’t want characters that I think need good a swift kick in the derierre for being jerks (e.g. Sebastion in Gaffney’s “To Have and To Hold”….I think that was the title). While I have an amazing capacity for supsending disbelief I want the characters to behave in a way that is consitant or true to the constraints set by the universe the author has created (same goes for plot) which is why I think LKH has jumped the shark because she’s inconsistant and breaks every rule she sets in her books.

Teresa:This is interesting to me because I basically agree with Jen here – I definitely like things to happen in the books I read, and like Jen I can get bored easily by no action and all introspection. I pretty much disliked Hamlet for this reason – “to be or not to be blah blah blah” – just get on with it! (Otherwise I like Shakespeare – King Lear is great because things happen) And yet. I liked To Have and To Hold by Gaffney, and I’ve enjoyed some others of her books too. Then take my all-time favorite “Pride and Prejudice” and if you think about it, nothing much happens AT ALL until the proposal. It’s all just husband hunting and balls ad nauseum. But I love it. So although I prefer book where Things Happen, if the stuff that isn’t happening is interesting enough – if I can truly care about the characters and what’s going on in their heads and they aren’t just thinking about the same things over and over but are engaged, say, in witty repartee – then I can still greatly enjoy a book where nothing happens.

Katrina:I seem to desperately need an “amelodramatic,” low-key romance. Of course writing style figures in there, too, as well as being able to identify with the characters (a real toughie!) and well-done research homework. I like hot scenes well-enough, but apparently find the emotional drama less to my taste than most romance readers do. I want to know they love each other for the rest of their lives, just mouthing the words doesn’t do it. Action/introspection doesn’t seem to be the dividing line for me. Yet, Anna Karenina drives me nuts with my total lack of compassion for Anna. It’s low-key, alright, but she’s acting too irresponsible for me to like her. I love Jane Austen, but prefer Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion to Pride and Prejudice (which is a wonderful funny, but not as touching) – which makes perfect amelodramatic sense.

Jen:Since I adore ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I stopped to think and realize what I gripe about in a lot of contemporary authors (contemporary a in writing now, not book setting) I never notice in the 19th century authors I love to read. I think part of it is if I’m picking up a book by Austen, one of the Brontes, Dickens or Hugo I put myself in a different mind set. I’m prepared for different use of the language and pacing and I know each authors quirks (e.g. Hugo likes to wander off into pointless tangents that may or may not circle back to the book’s plot 15 pages later and have one relevant paragraph and I expect that and just brush it off).So why can’t I get myself in a different mind-set when I’m reading a modern author who’s pace may be as slow and meandering as someone writing two hundred years ago? Part of it is the style and voice and the characters and the overall story, but I really wonder if it’s just different expectations on my part. When I read a writer, writing today I expect certain things of them and the main thing is I won’t have to put extra effort into enjoying the book. I want to be able to read it without having to work at it.

So it’s really half my fault when I don’t enjoy a book that doesn’t move as fast as I’d like or hold my interest, because I’m putting in less effort.

LLB:Rachel, your comments about Regencies is so interesting. My mini-glom of Kasey Michaels’ Regencies continues and just last night I finished The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane. This is a book in which there is basically no plot beyond the characters getting to know one another, most often in a London home. I’ve read perhaps six or seven of her books now, and this kind of book is very appealing to me. Oh, there’s SOME action, but it is character-driven rather than episodic.When I first read Julia Quinn’s first book, Splendid, I wrote in my DIK Review that it was like an episode of Seinfeld…about nothing. These books certainly have their place, but I will definitely tire of them after a while and probably mix them up w/some very exciting romances before going back for another long drink of them.

Sandy:Karen Hawkins upcoming book, An Affair to Remember (the review will go online this week), is a very simple story. The hero is forced to hire the heroine who has built a reputation as THE governess among the ton for difficult cases to take charge of the children of a cousin who’ve been left to his care. And that’s basically the plot. No cute little lessons in love or other nauseating contrivances. Just a grown-up hero and heroine, very witty dialogue, and a love story I thought was intense and engrossing.

LLB:When it all comes down to it, balance is key for me because, depending on my mood, I like both character-heavy books and action-heavy books. Truth be told, the best are probably a mix of both, but w/the clear demarcation of both. In other words, I like a book that gives you characterization when it’s needed and doesn’t hop off into action at a bad time, and vice versa. I prefer verbal dialogue, though, to constant internal monologue and think you can learn a lot about character through it. Just make sure, though, that if it is a mix of character and action, that the romance stays front and center, which is a problem with a lot of romantic suspense and a reason why I don’t tend to read them.One more thing. What I don’t like is whining, self-flagellating behavior. When I read a book where the introspection is so tortured it’s whiny, where the character ought to go and just put on the damn hair shirt or whip himself until he/she bleeds, I cannot handle it.

Robin:Well, I have to admit that I have liked both. I love Brockmann’s single titles for example, and a lot does happen in them. I like most of Howard too. But I think that usually when a book gets to me, there is some kind of intense introspection going on. (laughing) Hmm that certainly would be the case with Anna Karenina – an incredibly introspective book. Levon goes on for pages and pages about the meaning of life.At first glance it would not seem to be with my other favorite, David Copperfield. David Copperfield does focus intensely on characters. But David himself is absolutely clueless and the reader often understands more about David’s friends than he does. But that is the brilliance of the book. Dickens somehow enables the reader to feel more introspective and insightful than David – so there is introspection – it’s the readers.

Blythe:I think I like both action and introspection, with perhaps a slight preference for action. I enjoyed Ashworth’s Winter Garden, which I would say is a very non-action book. Where I start to get annoyed is when the introspection is all on the hero’s part, and all he can think about is what an *sshole he is and how his life sucks. I have an extremely low “sulking” threshold, and an even lower one for heroes who hate all women because their first wife was a bitch.

LLB:Blythe, this is what I consider the whining, self-flagellation factor. I’m glad to know it annoys you too.

Blythe:I’ll add some thoughts on another one of my favorites who didn’t quite get a 4 – Balogh (FWIW I believe I gave 4s to Brockmann, Gabaldon, Kelly, and Robb – can’t think of any others).Balogh, got a 3 from me because she has written some of my favorite books, and some of my unfavorites. I absolutely adore The Notorious Rake. I loved One Night for Love. Many others come in at solid Bs for me. But even when she was writing traditional Regencies (which is the way I prefer her) she was still hit and miss for me. Clunkers like The Last Waltz and (shudder) Secrets of the Heart didn’t go down very easily. However, I have loved or liked enough of her books for the good to outweigh the bad, and for me to count her among my favorite authors.

The authors that got 4s from me got them for different reasons; I don’ know that they have anything in common other than that I love their books. Of the four, Robb is probably my least favorite favorite. I’ve loved some and and merely liked others, but I haven’t disliked any of them. I guess if they have anything in common it would be strong characterization, because all of these authors write characters I love.

Jennifer:I love the stuff that Rachel hates. Many, many of my all-time favorite books are adventure books with romance subplots. Into this category I would put Dorothy Dunnett, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Barbara Hambly, all of whom are prominently featured in my Keeper Room. I got hooked on romance with the swashbuckling historical novels of Rafael Sabatini (Captain Blood, Scaramouche, The Black Swan, etc.) and there’s nothing I like better than a well-written, intelligent sword fight or battle at sea. Diana Gabaldon satisfies this need for me, as does the most recent Sandy Hingston, and C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, and so on, and so on.But if introspective characters is the other side of that coin, then I like those too. I like Gaffney and Ivory/Cuevas very much. (Kinsale I sometimes like, sometimes don’t.) I’d also like to put another favorite author of mine, Kathleen Eagle, in the “Introspective/not a lot of action” category. Anyone who likes the Gaffney/Ivory/Cuevas trinity, go read Eagle now. I love the intensity of emotion that these authors can bring up through all that introspection.

Mary’s quote from Seidel’s “Again” made me realize I have in fact read a Seidel, although I didn’t know it – that’s the one about the soap opera, right? I loved the first half of that book, but then the characters got stuck in this rut of agonizing over their situation and not doing something about it, that drove me crazy. By the end I wanted more of the soap opera, less of the actors’ real lives. Which, of course, is the pitfall of this sort of thing.

Basically, I like both categories, if they’re done well. Cheesy, badly-done, unintelligent action sequences do nothing for me. That was the chief flaw of “My Champion” by Glynnis Campbell, in which the hero, in order to save the heroine from a shipful of lusty crewmen, is to throw her overboard, saying something like, “I’ll meet up with you in Flanders later.” Flanders? You’ll meet her in Flanders? Do you maybe want to be a bit more specific than that? The whole book was like that – action-packed, but the action didn’t bear intelligent scrutiny at all. And if the introspective-character thing is badly done, you’re bored out of your mind.

The main thing I like, in either the action-packed or introspective categories, is good characters. I’ve mentioned several authors that I love in this message – they’re very different, but they all have good, intelligent, believable characters in common. I think that’s the key, for me.


histbutReturn to July 1 issue of At the Back Fence