Tag Archives: romance

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour: what the?

I LOVE Lisa Kleypas. I have raved more times than is good for me about her gorgeous, passionate, sexy books. See here. And here. And here. Also here.

Yep. I love her.

But I am oh so confused by her latest release.

Her last four releases have been contemporaries. Sugar Daddy I haven’t read. Blue Eyed Devil and Smooth Talking Stranger were both pretty good, the latter more so than the former. But they didn’t sparkle for me like her incomparable Hathaway series. They were written in first person, and she seemed to take her move into contemporary as a chance to bite off bigger issues – which I’m not entirely sure was a good idea.

The first disconcerting thing about Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour was the look of it. It’s about half the size of a typical romance novel. Something about most genre fiction, and single-title romance for sure, is that the look and feel of the book is familiar.

So this slim tome was immediately alien to me.

Then the first chapter, which sets up the premise of the book, felt like the kind of summary an author might write for herself to figure out what’s going on and what’s coming up and how everyone’s feeling about it.

It didn’t feel like a living, engaging, right-now kind of story. There was so much telling and so little showing, that I hardly cared. The hero was ordered straight from Amazon (thanks Jenny Crusie!) – blue eyes, dark hair, not handsome, but rugged and good-looking enough that it doesn’t matter.

He and his brothers are being brought back together for the first time after surviving a turbulent upbringing and the loss of a sister. Which feels like nothing more than a by-the-by, “this is my character’s backstory”.

Again, like she’s writing notes, in summary, to herself.

I can’t help but wonder whether she ran out of time. Inspiration. Talent… Nah, ok, I wouldn’t go that far, because this is Ms Lisa K we’re talking about.

But a very odd, disconcerting experience all up.

Oh, and I forgot yesterday: The blurb is completely misleading. I understand that blurb writers can’t read every book they write blurbs for (or else that would be the best job in the world!), but surely they at least get the editor to OK it before it goes to print?

True Grit

given who I am, and what I write, it may not surprise you that what I took from the Coen brothers’ remake of the Western True Grit was that it’s a love story between a fourteen-year-old girl and a fifty-something-year-old man.

Go figure.

I guess Mr Le Boeuf (played by Matt Damon) had some part of the emotional configuration, but for me Cogburn was, without a doubt, the romantic hero.

Oh dear. I wonder if I sound a little, er, crazy.

I was forming a theory that artists are given license, in portraying less pc times, to be less pc. See the line where Maddy’s naming her horse Little Blackie and the little black boy helping her out says “Good name!” See any number of sexist overtures and gratuitous drinking in Mad Men.

In a way, as a viewer, it’s kind of relaxing. There’s some allowance, because it’s not you thinking or enjoying those things, it’s just a true expression of the times.

Then I thought of Leon, the film about a French assassin who is saddled with and finally falls in love with a young girl. It is (or at least, was) a contemporary film.

I found then, and True Grit has confirmed me in this opinion, that it’s a deeply moving, deeply interesting romance to explore when all the elements are put together right. In both cases – though more so in True Grit, I would say – there is no possibility of romantic expression. He is far too old, she is far too young.

But all the things that belong to love, they have.

It’s a construction much more often found where sexual deviancy is also found. Maybe people who are already thinking outside the square are open to exploring what transverses a fine and dangerous line.

It just proves to me that those lines are worth travelling, and exploring, even if we terrify ourselves a little in the process.

special edition with special k #2

The city without walls

an anthology setting forth the drama of human life

arranged by Margaret Cushing Osgood.

Published 1933 by Macmillan in New York .

Written in English.

Have you ever heard of this book? No? Well I’m not surprised. I had little to no success finding anything about it on the internet, but I did used to own a copy.

Let me tell you about it.

The book is an anthology of quotes and excerpts by almost every infamous literary or theological figure you can think of. The contents is divided into historical figures (Napoleon, Gandhi, etc.), religious figureheads (Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.), famous authors (Wordsworth, Rumi, etc.) and then by theme (Love, Sorrow, Twilight, Gypsy, Death and, of course, Romance.)

Now we know you haven’t read the romance section of The City Without Walls unless you somehow manage to have a copy gathering dust on your bookshelf. So we don’t know what’s in it. And so I would like to create our own section right here!

I’ll go first:

I remember Paris perfectly. The Germans wore grey, you wore blue. Rick Blaine, Casablanca.

My contribution is limited by my lack of romance literature prowess. So I expect your contributions to be much better. Once I have sufficient contributions I will post them all in special k’s next edition.




1st v 2nd draft

It just occurred to me the other day that I should put some info about what I’m writing up on the blog, just so’s the stuff I go on about – strong, virginal throats, for instance – makes some sense.

I’ve created a new page, romance in progress, and posted some thoughts about writing the novel/how I started writing it etc.

I’ve also posted the blurb and first chapter for the draft I’m working on now, and the blurb and first chapter for the first draft [I’ve now removed these pages; 2/04/11]. It’s quite amazing actually, to look at them both, so some thoughts about the differences:

The major turning point in my huge rewrite/redraft (see, until this point I actually thought I was already up to draft 3!) was Susannah Taylor’s feedback. Her main critique was that whilst the story was fun, it fell too far on the side of farce – i.e. the reader’s just along for the situational humour, not to see the characters progress in an emotional way.

This is immediately obvious in the title of my first draft: The Three Loves of Miss Beatrice Sutherland. Doesn’t that just sound like a Regency romp? (Which is a great thing – the title prob. quite inspired by Quinn’s The Secret Diary of Miss Miranda Cheever. But she had emotional intensity set up from the beginning. I didn’t.) Oh, and in the fact that my hero’s hiding in a linen box, letting his lover protect him.

Which brings me to ST’s other major point: he’s a hard sell as a hero.

My new and improved Roscoe, who suffers panic attacks and is seen in chapter one totally owning the toughest, deadliest Scot that side of the 20th century, comes whole and perfect from my old Roscoe.

Everything he is, I teased out of his predecessor – from things I’d written into him that I wasn’t even conscious of at the time.

One interesting difficulty that arose out of making him more alpha, was that he was suddenly much less attractive and much more awkward in a dress. Roscoe1 was up for anything, and as long as he was being entertained and extreme, he was happy. He was so supremely confident that it wouldn’t even occur to him that he should be uncomfortable. Roscoe2, in being a Machiavel, and aware of every little nuance of every little action he takes, makes the dress a much more conspicuous piece of scenery.

Hopefully it’ll be a little bit fun for you to see a snippet of what I agonise over so much.


a brilliant opener

I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Hoyt’s Four Soldiers series, and was sadly disappointed. The writing’s not bad, but for someone who I consider to be writing some of the best, most sophisticated and compelling romance today, it also didn’t blow me away.

However, I have just visited her website and I think the beginning of her up-coming novel Notorious Pleasures is an absolute corker:

The daughter of a duke learns early in life the proper etiquette for nearly everything. What dish to serve roasted larks in. When to acknowledge a rather risqué dowager countess and when to give her the cut direct. What to wear whilst boating down the Thames, and how to fend off the tipsy advances of an earl with very little income at the picnic afterward.

Everything, in fact, Lady Hero Batten reflected wryly, but how to address a gentleman coupling vigorously with a married lady not his own.

“Ahem,” she tried while gazing fixedly at the molded plaster pears on the ceiling overhead.


third-wheel romantic hero

bizarrely, the Melbourne City Library only has books 2 and 3 of Juliet Marillier’s trilogy The Bridei Chronicles. I went ahead and borrowed them anyway.

Book 2, The Blade of Fortriu, made for some odd reading for 2 reasons.

1. The central romance is a love triangle, but the romantic hero of the book as a whole was definitely Faolon, the guy who doesn’t get the girl.

He’s the kings spy/assassin/right-hand man who has no past and no emotions. Then he has to transport a “spoilt princess” up north to marry a barbarian, and he falls in love; his careful, unfeeling shell is broken open.

The feeling that he was the romantic hero worked in that I liked him best, so I wanted more of his pain and angst. But it made the romance element of the book quite unusual – and also a bit difficult to read, because I naturally wanted to invest in the guy who got the girl, but was always held back by my preference for Faolan. It made the romance a frustration at times, rather than a pleasure.

It all pays off in book 3, but more of that in another post.

2. The characters from the first book have quite a major plotline, but because I wasn’t at all invested in them (and found them quite boring, to be honest) I just skim-read those parts of the book.

That’s a first for me, and equal parts liberating and terrifying. Liberating, because I didn’t spend hours of my time tied into something I wasn’t enjoying, and terrifying because if you can just skip over parts, why read anything at all?

third-wave romance

according to the people who like to talk, coffee culture is up to its third wave. So in a completely unrelated aside, I decided that I have a theory about romance writing, and where it’s up to.

(I’m obliged to say that “third-wave” is considered a highly pretentious, silly term by actual coffee people. But it works for my theory, so it stays.)

There is old-school, bodice-rippers-of-the-70s romance. This is what lingers, and gives people the impression they have of the genre. This is what we snuck into the library and read as teenagers, with its “quivering mound of venus”s and “purple-headed warrior”s.

As skilful and beloved as Stephanie Laurens is, I think she’s an example of first-wave romance. Her heroes are alphas, her heroines are plucky, and whilst the heroine never finds herself suddenly turned on in the middle of being raped, she does quite often “leave the mortal plane” for hours on end after sex, before coming back to herself.

To me, that says old-school.

The second wave are the intelligent, funny, sexy and wise writers like Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Kleypas – even Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Their books are complex and peopled with flawed, human characters. Sex isn’t always perfect. The writing is that epitome of genre writing: entirely transparent, like a window that draws you into a scene, without making you aware at any time that there’s glass between you and what you’re watching.

Then there’s third-wave.

I admit to only having read a tiny corner of what’s out there, but for what I’ve read, there are three writers bringing in the new generation of romance: Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Julie Anne Long.

Third-wave romance has characters that don’t only have three dimensions and believable motivations, and aren’t just sympathetic and flawed. They feel human. To the point where sometimes you feel like you’re intruding on a private moment between them and their beloved.

These writers are also pushing the kind of language that romance novels are written in. They’re using unique, fresh images and startling turns of phrase. Their characters are so well-drawn that we are only ever seeing the tip of the iceberg, in the best writerly fashion. Language is becoming a facet of the novel, in and of itself.

I wouldn’t say third-wave is best. In a way, second-wave makes for a more enjoyable read, because of its transparency – it doesn’t unsettle you, or leave you wondering.

I aspire to be the best writer I can be, but I maybe secretly aspire to the third wave as well.

plot jealousy

me and Cat were talking today about how when a character falls in love, the object of their affection has to become their greatest weakness. I re-watched Hancock tonight, and that premise is so beautifully written into the film that I really, really wish I’d thought of it first.

*spoilers ahead, people!*

Hancock is the only superhero on earth, and he’s a lonely, drunken asshole. Until a PR guy takes him on, and dares him to face the fact that he’s running, and that he will never be happy until he accepts his role as hero and saviour.

That guy’s wife also just happens to be Hancock’s other half – his wife, before he had his head bashed in 80 years earlier and forgot everything.

They are angels, gods – superheroes. They are immortal until they are close to their other half. Then they are graced with mortality, with the ability to live, and love, and die. Dying being the operative part.

Unfortunately, the universe wants to keep Hancock alive, i.e. keep he and his wife apart, so any time they come close, she is wounded to get to him.

I think my favourite scene is after he’s been shot and admitted to hospital and his wife comes to see him and to explain. She shows him the scars on his own body – each a testament to his saving her throughout history. She knows his body intimately, and his scars are signs of a deep and selfless love, in a life where he thought he had no one.

Then he has to fly as far from her as he can go, to save her life.

It’s a tragic love story in the best possible way. The wife stays with her human husband – who is equally heroic in his quieter, more human way. She exercises her free will. But watching over her, and eternal with her, is her other half.

Ah sigh. Plot jealousy.

could you stand to have a cuppa with your protagonist?

My original review of Love in the Afternoon is appropriately gushy, so I won’t go into how great the book is on re-reading.

Something that’s really struck me this time around – and maybe it’s in contrast to the ernest paranormal lot – is that Beatrix is just so damn likable. She’s genuine and original, warm-hearted and half wild.

A lot of authors tell us their heroines are those things, but Beatrix really is. It makes me realise, in contrast, just how many heroines annoy. And a huge part of her charm is that she truly does respect and stick up for herself – without losing her gorgeous sense of vulnerability.

I love unlikable characters, especially when their “badness” has integrity. But there’s so much to be learned from this wonderful novel about writing someone you would genuinely respect, admire and – yes – take tea with.


the Covet review

I didn’t like this book. There. You have it straight up. At about page 450 of this 474-page book I came clean with myself that the itchy feeling in my fingers was to do with the fact that I wanted to put the book down. Without any impetus to pick it up again.

A couple of things:

I wasn’t going to read the fallen angels, but decided to because I was going crazy waiting for Lover Unleashed. I figured any Ward was good Ward.


I actually feel like it’s achieved the opposite: Because I had no investment in these characters, Ward’s writing palette was made very obvious to me, and it made the Black Dagger Brotherhood seem less special somehow, as though I’ll go back to it seeing all those things that my full immersion made unimportant before.

Ok, now time for some “it wasn’t ALL bad”.

And it wasn’t. I kinda like Jim, the fallen angel who has to help the hero get the girl. I thought his side-kick Adrian was too like Qhuinn, so I had to stop myself from imagining him anything like, and it skewed him in my head. Eddie? Huge guy with a long braid doesn’t really do anything for me.

Oops, I was on good points, right?

The dark stuff is good, she does really go there. And I think my favourite scene, which was executed brilliantly, is when we first see the hero. We’re in the POV of a jeweller who is selling him a $2,300,000 diamond ring.

After making the jeweller show him progressively worse stones for an hour, Vin says he’ll take the first one he was shown, adding: “If I’m giving you my money, I want you to work for it. And you will be discounting the stone, because your business needs repeat clients like myself.”

He comes across as hard, mean and powerful. In a really good way.

This is where my biggest beef with the book lies, though. The whole premise is the battle for human souls. They are souls that have an equal chance of swinging either way – that can be influenced equally by good and evil.

But all we see, the whole way through, is a bunch of people trying to do the right thing whilst evil throws up some obstacles in their path. This is particularly true of Jim, who Team Evil are supposedly very confident of being able to sway. There’s so much that could have been done with actual human desires, which sometimes do tend the other way. The only person who truly gave in to an evil desire was the baddie. Proper, normal baddie guy.

I think this is why the romance didn’t work for me in the slightest. I really couldn’t care less about these two being together. Marie-Terese as prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold was ok (or not – her problems got tiresome pretty quick. Vin kept admiring her backbone, and I kept wondering why she didn’t have one), but her reasons for resisting her attraction to Vin were tepid at best. There was a fear because the attraction reminded her of her first husband – another great opportunity to explore the dark side of the soul not taken.

I didn’t feel any vulnerability from her – falling in love didn’t feel like a risk. Which is funny, because that’s what we were told it was, as far as plotting went. Also, her as a desperate mother? Ward really should have read Dream a Little Dream before she ventured down that path.

When Vin and Marie-Terese first meet there are sparks. And then there’s just a whole lot of falling in love and gradually defeating some bad stuff, but hey, they’re in love. I so wanted to see that hard, cold man from the jewellery shop struggle to come good – but as soon as we got inside his head, he felt reformed. So when he finally makes love to Marie-Terese and it actually means something, I had nothing to contrast it with and I was just like “Oh, ok.”

NO conflict. Not in the love. Conflict in love is good.

Ah, what a rant. It was just so damn disappointing. I even have Crave sitting on my dining room table and I just don’t think I’ll bother.