A CELEBRATION OF ROMANCE: Picture this –
You are looking at a bookcase filled with possibly hundreds of books but you can’t find anything you want to read. Or, you are reading a book and suddenly say, “Wait a minute, such-and-such book did this much better!” So, off you go, running to your “keeper” shelves, and within minutes are happily re-reading an old favorite.
Has this happened to you? What other circumstances arise that lead you to an old favorite? Just finished a string of bad ones and want a sure thing? Getting ready for the newest release, possibly a sequel (finally!) by a favorite author?
When you go back and re-read certain books, which ones are the most dog-eared, and why? Do you read the entire book again, cover to cover? Do you read the last chapters, the epilogue, a certain love scene? Do you go for the strongest fight scene, funny scene, scene of realization or acceptance?
I’ll bet it depends, doesn’t it? Depends on your mood, why you chose the book to re-read, etc. My husband knows full well that when I load Terms of Endearment into the VCR, I need a catharsis. When I need inspiration about the goodness of “man” I read the ending chapters of Judith McNaught’s Kingdom of Dreams.
Other books/portions of books I re-read and the reasons why:
The ending chapters of Jill Barnett’s Bewitching when I want a good cry and then a good laugh
Most of Catherine Archer’s Velvet Bond when I need to read a story where the hero is so blind that he can’t see the good everyone else sees in the heroine
The dinner scene in Julia Quinn’s Splendid because it always makes me laugh out loud
Catherine Coulter’s Night Fire because the hero is so heroic
Any of Catherine Coulter’s Magic trilogy because they have wonderful love scenes
Whenever in doubt, I grab Castles by Julie Garwood – it always gives me what I want.
In fact, I can almost always depend on anything written by Julie Garwood when I need a “break” from anything. I know the heroes in her quartet of Lion’s Lady, Guardian Angel, The Gift, Castles, and the heroes in Rebellious Desire, Saving Grace, The Bride, and The Secret are strong alpha-types but don’t demean the heroines. I know that the heroines are beautiful, smart, have common sense, and are capable women. I know that her books generally use conflict outside the hero/heroine’s relationship and bring the two together and so I won’t get a headache from them taunting, screaming, and betraying each other. I know that her books make me laugh and make me tingle.
In an effort to gear up for the national RWA conference next week, let’s celebrate what’s good in our favorites. One thing I have noticed is that we all talk a lot about the heroes of romantic fiction, and much more often than the heroines. There are possibly a couple of good reasons for this, the first of which is fleshed out in Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women, a series of essays on romantic fiction edited by Jayne Ann Krentz.
Authors Laura Kinsale and Linda Barlow postulate that our love for heroes goes beyond the fact that they are men. They are the archetypal male and let us identify with our masculine side. Without getting all Jungian, they are yin to our yang. The combination of male strength and female nurturing, hunter and gatherer, lover and beloved, makes us whole. I like their idea that we connect with romantic fiction because it celebrates androgyny and encourage everyone to find this book, re-issued last month in paperback by Harper Monogram.
The other reason we “love” heroes so much is because they are men, and heterosexual women love heterosexual men. These are manly men who revel in their maleness and so do we, regardless of how we might feel about a macho man in real life. These are heroic figures who are often literally brought to their knees by the power of love, which is the power of women. Wow — heady stuff!
So, what do you think about all these ramblings? First, pick one of your all-time keepers and tell me why you love it as you do. Tell me how many times you’ve read it, which parts you read over and over and over again. Do you love the hero, the heroine, the plot, the humor, the pathos, or the great sex? What do you make of the arguments of Laura Kinsale and Linda Barlow? Answer any other questions posed in the above section and e- mail me here.
BTW, I have a new book I’ll be looking at when I need a good cry – Day Dreamer by Jill Marie Landis. This incredible book is only the second I’ve bestowed a 5-heart review on and it’s more than a two-hanky read – it’s a whole-box-of-Kleenex-read.
TALKING ABOUT HEROES . . .
In past issues of this column, we have often discussed heroes. In light of the essays alluded to above, I thought we should re-visit this integral part of any romance. A few months ago I asked that readers reveal their favorite hero – that man they would most like to be stranded on a desert island with. Since that time, other readers have shared with me other wonderful heroes. I’d like to share them with you now, and provide you with the reasons they were chosen:
Alexander Ridgely, the Duke of Ashbourne, from Julia Quinn’s Splendid (because he was a handsome rogue who roared yet gave himself over to the chaos his lady love brought with her)All the heroes in Julie Garwood’s books (because they don’t demean their heroines and are tall, dark, and sexy)
Pasqual from Katherine Kingsley’s No Sweeter Heaven
Nicholas Daventry from Katherine Kingsley’s No Greater Love (because he showed great sensitivity to his shy bride’s inexperience)
Jedwin Sparrow from Pamela Morsi’s Wild Oats (because he helps a scandalous “divorced” woman overcome her past with gentleness and persistence)
Michael Hosea from Francine River’s Redeeming Love (because he shows the power of love and forgiveness to his love, a fallen woman)
Matthew Fletcher from JoAnn Power’s You & No Other (because he speaks poetry)
Philip Brooks from Tom and Sharon Curtis’ Lightning Lingers (because he is a gentle man who cares about all creatures)
Ransom Laird from Rachel Lee’s Exiles End (because this wounded warrior helps his shy love overcome the pain of her past)
Christopher Lallek from LaVyrle Spencer’s Family Blessings (because he sees past the barriers of age)
Peter Lericos from Mary Kirk’s Phoenix Rising (because he comes out of hiding to help a lady in need)
Mitch Ryan from BJ James’ The Saint of Bourbon Street (because he saves others from the streets)
Grey Rouillard from Linda Howard’s After the Night
Dane Hollister from Linda Howard’s Dream Man
Challan from Johanna Lindsey’s Warrior’s Woman (because he was so sexy)
James Malory from Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue
Tristin McLaughlin from Susan Andersen’s Shadowdance (because he was a tall, dark, and handsome cop)
Devin McKade of Nora Robert’s McKade brothers
Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (because he was a virgin and because he believed in his lady)
Lord Robert “Robin” Andreville from Mary Jo Putney’s The Rogue & the Runaway
Michael Kenyon of Mary Jo Putney’s Shattered Rainbows (because he trembled in the sight of love)
Cyn Malloren from Jo Beverley’s My Lady Notorious (because he was not a jerk)
Christian de Rivers from Suzanne Robinson’s Lady Gallant
Zackary Benedict from Judith McNaught’s Perfect (because he was romantic, caring, and strong)
Matt Farrell from Judith McNaught’s Paradise (because he was so strong and intelligent)
Royce Westmoreland from Judith McNaught’s A Kingdom of Dreams (because he was willing to sacrifice his life for his lady love)
Sloan Carroll from Dorothy Garlock’s To Love & Cherish (because he was so gentle)
Clayton Holland, from Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember (because he was flesh-and-blood and very honorable)
Struan Rossmara of Stella Cameron’s Bride (because he was honorable and could see beauty where others missed it)
Ian Fraser of Kathryn Lynn Davis’ Too Deep for Tears (because he embodied romance)
Burke Drummond of Catherine Coulter’s Night Fire
Matt Richards of Catherine Hart’s Irresistible (because he could still trust after his horrible first wife betrayed him, he was a non-judgmental man of the cloth, and had a wonderfully inventive sexual repertoire)
Michael Taggert from Jude Deveraux’s Sweet Liar
All the heroes from Mary Balogh’s books (because they are not your typical heroes)
Charlie from Jennifer Crusie’s Charlie All Night (because of his sense of humor)
Trevor d’Laine from Margaret St. George’s Love Bites (because he was willing to give up his sight for his lady love)
Derek Craven from Lisa Kleypas’ Dreaming of You (because he felt that he was not good enough)
Noah Sutton from Laura Taylor’s Seduced (because he saw his lady’s inner strengths and beauty)
Sam Tucker from Debra Dixon’s Slow Hands (because he respected his lady’s intelligence and admired her accomplishments)
Gabriel Fitzgerald from Terry Lawrence’s Before I Wake (because he was willing to share power and strength)
Eli Masters Leanna Banks’ A Date with Mr. Frankenstein by Leanna Banks (because he had enough self-confidence to be aware of his weaknesses and could reveal them)
HOW’S THIS FOR A TRANSITION?
These heroes run the gamut from alpha to beta male. Since we read romance for the fantasy of it, I appreciate how we revel in the feelings these heroes evoke. But there’s something about the fantasy that not all readers “buy”. I remember a spirited discussion between myself and Leslie McClain, editor of The Romance Reader. She and I were in disagreement about Christina Skye’s Bride of the Mist, which is a suspenseful romance with more than a touch of mysticism. Leslie didn’t “buy” that the hero just happened to be a security expert, which is a necessary purchase if a reader is going to enjoy this book.
So, this fantasy didn’t work for her. My response is that certain beliefs have to be suspended if a romance is to be enjoyed. I mean, we all know men don’t really talk and feel the way they do in romances, don’t we? But we accept the words our authors use because it’s part of the fantasy. With Bride of the Mist, I “bought” what the author was selling.
But this concept of fantasy versus reality is difficult for many readers and is part of what I term the Gilligan’s Island Syndrome. To enjoy that show, a viewer had to set aside reality – how else could it be explained that the Howell’s had so many clothes for a 3-hour tour? How else could it be explained that the Professor couldn’t get them off the island? How else could it be explained that Ginger’s dresses cut short by MaryAnn in one episode were long again in the next? (Even as a child I lived in a fantasy land, can’t you tell?)
There are just things I don’t want to know when it comes to a romance. I don’t want to know how medieval women had smooth and silky thighs (although I seem to remember pumice was used). I don’t want to know the toilet habits of medieval men and women. I don’t want to know how it really smelled in those moats. Do you?
This explains, in part, the allure the historical romance has for me — contemporary romance seems either ridiculously unbelievable (adult virgin women) or too close to reality ( jobs, mortgages, nasty co-workers). What do you think? Are there some things you don’t want to know? Are there some things you do want to know? And, do you prefer historical or contemporary romance? Please e-mail me here.
WHAT HEADING SHOULD THIS BE UNDER? On the Road –
We need to start some new lists. Prodigy pal Andrea and I have discussed “road romances” – those romances where much of the story unfolds en route from one location to another. We both enjoy these stories and I’m sure many of you do as well. They are exciting stories, filled with adventure and danger. They are often evocative of time and place, richly descriptive of the environment in multi-sensory manner. Here is a small list of road romances to which I’d like your additions:
Taming the Wolf by Deborah Simmons
A Taste of Heaven by Alexis Harrington
Irresistible by Catherine Hart
Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Silver Nights and Beloved Enemy by Claudia Bishop aka Jane Feather
Touch of Fire and Heart of Fire by Linda Howard
Fierce Eden by Jennifer Blake
The Diamond Tiger by Ann Maxwell aka Elizabeth Lowell
Walking after Midnight by Karen Robards
Angel Rogue by Mary Jo Putney
Please e-mail me your thoughts on the allure of the road romance and/or your additions to this list.
YOU LIKE . . . WHAT?
Another RReader who wishes to remain anonymous — and perhaps this is reasonable considering her question ;) – wants to know if there are many romances where the heroine is the more dominant partner in love scenes.
Another reader, perhaps asking a similar question but in a different way, wants us to explore the male as virgin scenario as written in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. So, please, if you have any thoughts on this subject, and/or titles that fit this category, please e-mail them here.
THE STRONGER SEX:
Still another RReader wants to explore feminine strength in a different manner. In part, her letter states:
“What I would really like to read is a story when a group of heroines save their men. Jude Deveraux’s last book in the Velvet series did this but in very short order. When women get to save the day it only takes a chapter or two, not the whole book, (as it does) when a man does it. A number of Julie Garwood ladies, Jade from Guardian Angel, Alessandra from Castles, Sara from The Gift, etc. could pull this off because of the different strengths she has given them. Any opinion?”
Obviously there are many reasons why the hero-as-rescuer theme is so dominant in romance. This is the stuff of fairy tales, from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White to their often-modern day incarnation as romantic fiction. There is a trove of psychological “stuff” at the bottom of this, no doubt, but it is also cultural. I would love to hear from any reader who would care to sort out all the issues involved. Please e-mail me here.
I agree that Julie Garwood creates very capable heroines — they have common sense. Amanda Quick also writes capable heroines, although common sense is not among their strengths in general. But her heroines are fearless and brave. Tess from Elizabeth Elliott’s The Warlord indeed does save her hero, as does the heroine from Danelle Harmon’s My Lady Pirate. The heroines of The Devil Earl and The Vicar’s Daughter written by Deborah Simmons, manage to save themselves a couple of times. I would also like to hear about the heroines most capable of rescuing her hero. For your additions to this list, please e-mail me here.
ON HEROES & HEROINES:
To tie many of the above-listed topics together, I want to talk about one of the ultimate female fantasies — being loved by a man and considered beautiful by a man when we are not beautiful. I’m reading Denim & Lace by Patricia Rice. The heroine in this book is described by all except the hero as rather plain. And yet, every description of her by him is of a lovely woman. While I’ve read several books where the hero loves the heroine “even though” she is not beautiful, such as the wonderful Stealing Heaven by Kimberly Cates and any number of books by Amanda Quick, Denim & Lace seems unusual to me in this respect. To some extent, Stella Cameron’s Bride depicts something similar. I am very much enjoying Denim & Lace and wonder if there are other books out there where the hero doesn’t love the heroine in spite of her looks, but simply sees her as beautiful when she is not. Please e-mail me here.
While on the topic of heroes and heroines, and because Romantic Times has picked up on “luscious love” (one of their Booklovers Convention workshops is referred to in the August issue as “Luscious Love Scenes), I thought now would be a good time to print our listing of Luscious Love Stories, those romances that have the most memorable love scenes. The newest addition to this list is Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi. RReader Anita submitted this title because, “It was funny and touching all at once. Like Pam I too have a child who is special and the story touched close to my heart, because like Jess my son too has all the needs and feelings of a so called normal male. It gave this mothers heart hope (even if there will never be a girl good enough for him. :) ” Enjoy!
Wolf’s Embrace by Gail Link
Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney
A Gentle Feuding by Johanna Lindsey
The Tiger Lily, Midnight Masquerade, While Passion Sleeps, and Gypsy Lady by Shirlee Busbee
Ashes in the Wind, The Wolf & the Dove, and
The Flower & The Flame by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Fair is the Rose by Meagan McKinney
A Fire in the Heart by Katherine Sutcliffe
When the Splendor Falls by Laurie McBain
Only His by Elizabeth Lowell
After the Night, Dream Man, and Midnight Rainbow by Linda Howard
One Summer by Karen Robards
Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy
Exposure by Susan Andersen
Lost in my Dreams by Faye Ashley
Slow Heat in Heaven andCharade by Sandra Brown
Taboo by Olivia Rupprecht
Sweet Liar and The Invitation (specifically the short story The Matchmakers) by Jude Deveraux
Love’s Charade, Silver Nights, Smuggler’s Lady, Beloved Enemy, and The Eagle & the Dove by Claudia Bishop aka Jane Feather
Rebellious Desire, Lion’s Lady, Guardian Angel, The Gift, Castles, Saving Grace, The Secret, The Prize, and The Bride by Julie Garwood
Night Storm, the Magic trilogy, and The Sherbrooke Bride by Catherine Coulter
Bride by Stella Cameron
Bewitching by Jill Barnett
Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley
The Vicar’s Daughter by Deborah Simmons
Splendid by Julia Quinn
Irresistible by Catherine Hart
Rebellious Bride by Donna Fletcher
Princess Annie and Forever & the Night by Linda Lael Miller
His Lady’s Ransom by Merline Lovelace
Rendezvous by Amanda Quick
The Scoundrel by Debra Dier
Blaze by Susan Johnson
Hidden Riches by Nora Roberts
Tell me no Lies by Ann Maxwell aka Elizabeth Lowell
Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
SO MUCH TO SAY, SO LITTLE SPACE:
Many of you are probably wondering why so many of the pending topics from previous issues weren’t discussed in this issue. All I can do is plead author’s prerogative. But don’t despair. I am working hard on coming issues and those topics will be discussed.