At the Back Fence Issue #290

January 7, 2008

Laurie Likes Books: Robin’s annual Buried Treasures column is a wonderful way for us to kick off our annual reader poll, which opens today and runs through midnight, February 17th. Robin’s been writing about buried treasures for nine years now. As with last year, the titles and descriptions you provide on the ATBF Message Board will be compiled into an addendum that will be posted next week. Both the column and its addendum should be of great help in helping you remember some lesser-known gems from the year – and to provide some incentive to perhaps read a couple of books before polling ends at midnight on February 18th. Our reviews database should also prove useful in this regard; via power search you can look for each of the categories we discuss below.

And for those wondering, we’ll be kicking off our annual Isn’t It Romantic? contest later in the week.

 From the Desk of Robin Uncapher:

It’s that time again!

Once a year, just as we are kicking off the AAR Annual Reader Poll, we devote an At the Back Fence column to all the books that may have slipped past our readers in the past year. We call these books Buried Treasures. These are the 2007 published romance novels that many or perhaps even most romance readers haven’t read, won’t read, and have not heard about. They include books where the author is so unknown that even great buzz on the boards is won’t translate into book sales. The general audience of romance readers probably won’t think of these books at awards time. A given Buried Treasure might have a terrible cover or a stupid name. Buried treasures are often written by first time writers but more often, they are books by midlist writers, whose work is easy to pass over, even for readers who follow the genre.

Whenever I write the Annual Buried Treasures column, I am asked what constitutes a Buried Treasure book as opposed to a Buried Treasure author. For the purposes of this column a Buried Treasure is a book, one that was published in the previous year. People often ask me if such a book by an author known within AAR circles, someone like Carla Kelly, qualifies as a buried treasure. The answer is yes. Readers of ATBF do not always follow our reviews or the message boards and the purpose of this column is to talk about 2007 books that might be overlooked. Similarly we might name a relatively unknown book, by a better known author, just because it doesn’t seem to have gotten any buzz.

My Buried Treasure recommendation this year is Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe, the story of a man who becomes something of a celebrity because of an awful event in his life – becoming a castaway. James Trevenen, the hero, is not very interested in becoming famous but he uses his celebrity to aid a widow whose reputation has been damaged and whose family has been unrelentingly cruel. It’s one of those books about two people, both in dire straits, who miraculously meet just the right person to save their lives.

Carla Kelly was one of the first romance writers I stumbled on when I started reading romance. I’m not sure I would have found her books had I not been completely new to the genre and dependent on reviews for information. I have never been one to follow the bestseller lists, which in this case, was a good thing. Carla Kelly doesn’t write many books. Unlike many other romance writers, you can’t tell the seasons by the new release. But Carla Kelly romance fans are passionate about her books and are always eager to bring her up. Her books are too well known to be Buried Treasurers on the AAR forums. Wouldn’t it be great if she were as well known everywhere else?

Of all the columns I write throughout the year, this is the one that gets me buying the most books. There is something intriguing to me about a great book that’s been flying below the radar, one that most people will pass by, either because the author is unknown, the cover is terrible or the marketing is next to nonexistent. In her author testimonial to AAR’s tenth anniversary, Donna Simpson describes the lackluster public reception of her first book, the 1999 Zebra trad, Lord St. Claire’s Angel. The book was unknown to most of us until we read Anne Marble’s post-1999 review here at AAR. I remember searching for a copy, which was off most bookstore shelves by the time readers began talking about it. Now that is a Buried Treasure.

I began writing the Buried Treasures column because it seemed to me that very good books are likely to go unnoticed in romance. At that time books by blockbuster authors dominated the list of poll winners. This seemed a shame. My annual buried treasure column kicks off the start of AAR’s Annual Reader Poll. Following are Buried Treasure recommendations from my AAR colleagues. We hope that those books will give our readers a wider choice of books to consider as the standouts of 2007.

Medieval Cheryl Sneed, Editor/Senior Reviewer/Ombudswoman recommends Helen Kirkman’sCaptured. This is the second year in a row that Cheryl recommended books from this author’sWarrior of the Dragon Banner. This Viking series features knights who serve King Alfred of Wessex , the lone holdout against the Viking invasions of the 870s – 880s. Cheryl writes ofCaptured that it tells the story of “two morally ambiguous captives of the Vikings trying to escape – lots of lies and intrigue and suspense.”
European Historical Senior Reviewer Lisa Gardineer and Cheryl Sneed both recommended Jo Goodman’s If His Kiss is Wicked. This book was one of Cheryl’s favorite 2007 books. One of the things that Cheryl most appreciates about Goodman’s books is that, in them she “tends to torture her heroines (instead of her heroes) and pair them with nurturing men.

Lisa Gardineer recommends Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn. Lisa said that this book is “just a great old fashioned romance. The kind that made me fall in love with the genre.”

Editor Lynn Spencer , Reviewer Rike Horstmann, and Pollster Lee Brewer all agreed with my recommendation of Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe, the story of a castaway who comes back to England and uses his new found celebrity to help a lonely widow.

Lynn also recommends Perfidia by Elspeth McKendrick, arguing that the story’s unusual plot and setting in Nazi Germany are wholly underutilized in romance novels. She adds that the author did a “fantastic job of making both the action plot and the romance work. This book was more complex than the average historical and therefore lingered in my mind long after I finished reading.”

Managing Editor Blythe Barnhill recommends Mary Brendan’s A Practical Mistress by Mary Brendan. Blythe had never heard of Brendan before and picked up the book on a whim, but it turned out to be a very good read that filled the emptiness left by the demise of the trad Regency.

American Historical There are fewer American historicals with every passing year, but Lynn recommends High Plains Bride by Jenna Kernan. She told us that “Kernan makes Western history come alive, her characters are sympathetic and she tells an emotional story. I can’t believe she isn’t better known.”
Series Romance Reviewer Carolyn Esau recommends Jackie Braun’s Harlequin Romance The Businessman’s Bride, adding that the story deals with “greater emotional issues that the sappy title implies.” The heroine learns that her biological mother is alive and wants to meet her. She turns to her brother’s friend and business lawyer for help in dealing with the matter.

Lee Brewer suggests If I’d Never Known Your Love by Georgia Bockoven (part of Harlequin’s Everlasting Love line). This is the story of a woman whose husband has been kidnapped. Lee wrote, “I was so happy to see Ms. Bockoven writing again. She was in excellent form with this tearjerker love story.”

Contemporary Senior Editor Ellen Micheletti recommends Jennifer Greene’s Blame It On Cupid. For Ellen, Greene’s longevity hasn’t meant an equal amount of praise, particularly given her very distinctive voice. Perhaps she’s too often overlooked because she writes with a loose and effortless charm that is deceptively simple. Ellen adds that Greene is just about the only author who can take her most disliked character – the ditz heroine – and make her lovable and charming. She continues, “This book is a good example of how she does it. Merry is a dear, sweet and loving woman who changes from ditzy to responsible over the course of the story and does so in a very believable manner. I also loved the subplot in which the hero’s teenage son falls in love with a girl, thinks it’s the real thing and ends up with a broken heart and an STD. I have glommed Jennifer Greene for a long time and I think she is one of the best and most consistent writers out there.”

Ellen also recommends Five O’Clock Shadow by Genie Davis. She wrote that “This one is so full of funny, quirky dialogue that I read it with a big smile on my face all the way through. The story got away toward the end, but the main characters and the dialogue were a treat and a half.”

Lee Brewer suggests Kisses to Go by Irene Peterson , about a woman’s vacation in England at an old ancestral manor. Lee writes, “I was ready to book a stay after reading this book.”

Alternate Reality

FYI, in our just opened annual reader poll, this category was changed into two; one for SF/F and Futuristic Romances and the other for Paranormal and TT Romances. There is no specific category in this year’s poll for an actual romance with an Alternate Reality.

Senior Reviewer Kate Cuthbert recommends two fantasy romances by Jackie Kessler: Hell’s Belles and Road to Hell. Kate writes of Kessler’s incredible world-building, and “a Hell that was fascinating and engrossing and solid. Jesse is a strong heroine and these books just seem to keep getting stronger.”

Senior Editor Sandy Coleman recommends, Hundreds of Years to Reform a Rake by Laurie Brown. Sandy writes, “It’s sort of a cool combination of time travel, historical, and ghost story and I found it fresh and fun and intelligently written.” Sandy pointed out that this author has been published before (though not for a while) and that she is excited about SourceBooks, a publisher new to romance, for taking a chance on it.

Sandy also picks Sheri Erwin’s To Hell with Love by Sheri Erwin, particularly in that the author took a chance on her hero. She also appreciated the fact that the book was traditional in some ways – but not all. Sandy points out that the author’s dramatic shift in tone from light in the early part of the book to far darker in the latter really worked for her.

Laurie recommends MaryJanice Davidson’s The Royal Mess. Laurie argues that whileDavidson is a well-known author whose books could not usually be considered buried, this particular book was largely ignored. It’s the third in a series of alternate reality romances wherein Alaska is a sovereign nation. Laurie has enjoyed the entire series for its eccentric king, equally eccentric children and their love interests, but this one was not only funny and sexy, but overall, “a total delight and near-perfect read.” She adds that it’s “a true shame” that she never heard mention of it anywhere, particularly because “unlike so many third books in a trilogy, which often fade throughout the succession of books, this one is the best of the three.”

Chick Lit Rike Horstmann and Lee Brewer recommend Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter, a British writer. Rike writes, “This is chick lit at its most charming. The heroine travels to Britain on aJane Austen tour, and many of the descriptions are just hilarious. The hero is very atypical, which makes him all the more attractive in my eyes.”

Lee also recommends Jane Fallon’s Brit chick lit novel, Getting Rid of Matthew. Lee argues that although the premise “sounds skanky – a man leaves his wife to live with his mistress – it was very funny, especially when the husband’s kids came over for ‘dad time.'”

And another recommendation from Lee: The Return of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran. This unusual book concerns an IRS auditor and is a “lovely written story about a young woman’s work and home lives intertwining.“

Miscellaneous ATBF Co-columnist and AARList moderator Anne Marble and our publisher liaison, Kate Garrabrant, recommend Melissa Marr’s young adult novel, Wickedly Lovely. Kate writes, “After jumping on the Stephenie Meyer bandwagon, I heard about Marr and her world of fairies. This book features a young girl who can see fairies and she is torn between being with the Fairy Prince or her human boy friend, who is somewhat of a bad boy himself.” She adds that “Some heavy topics were in this novel such as sex, death and drinking, but underneath it all a wonderful love story and the quest to belong somewhere.”

Another YA recommendation comes from Kate C – Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist from Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan. She argues that although this is a YA novel, it remains “incredibly real and raw and very, very powerful. This book has the strongest emotional content of all the books I read this year.”

Lists Editor Rachel Potter recommends Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files, with itsindescribable – humor and P.I. and dysfunctional family. I think anyone who enjoys Stephanie Plum but wants a tighter writing style would enjoy it. “

Finally, Reviewer Jane Granville recommends, The Ultimatum by Dan Graziano. For Jane, this was “a wonderful book, and one I feel wasn’t really noticed. A few people mentioned it on the boards, but overall I’ve heard very little.” Graziano’s story features a man whose long-time girlfriend gives him a week to propose, or she’s leaving him. He seeks advice, and tries to figure out what to do.




Time To Post to the At the Back Fence Message Board:

Last week Laurie focused on general reading from 2007. This time around the focus is on buried treasures of the past year – those lesser-known gems that seemed to have been overlooked. We’ve started the discussion by sharing with you some of our own favorite buried treasures of 2007…what are yours? Please share titles and authors, a brief synopsis, and why you loved the book(s).

We would like the vote in our 12th annual reader poll to be the most widely representative of the past dozen years, so be sure to vote, and to mention the poll to your romance reading friends. Remember that the more of you who vote, the more valid the results. There are many categories – and some changes this time around – so take your time, but send in your completed ballot via our online form no later than midnight, February 17th

FYI, we plan to create an adjunct page of your favorite buried treasures and will post it before the next column goes live so that you will have the opportunity to check out some reader recommendations as soon as possible.

Robin Uncapher

Vote in our 12th annual reader poll

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