TBR Challenge Review, RomCom Redux

It’s fun to choose which TBR pile to take a book from for this challenge. I have my scary library used books pile, my “must-reads borrowed from someone” pile, my “gosh that looked interesting at the time” pile, and others. Gradually diminishing is the pile from RomCom last summer; I have read and enjoyed at least half of the books I brought home from that wonderful weekend. This is the latest, and it knocked my socks off.

I met Pamela Clare at RomCon; she’s a Denver-area author, and everyone said she was both a fine writer and a terrific person. I quickly learned that the latter was true; she was charming and gracious, even though she was suffering back pain, and I really enjoyed meeting her. She signed my copy of this book while we chatted, but it took me six months to read it. I don’t read a lot of romantic suspense, mostly because I’m a wimp. I’m really glad I read this one!

So what did I love about this book? So much. First, the heroine – Kat’s a journalist who specializes in environmental reporting, very cool. She’s Native American, very traditionally raised, so there are interesting cultural issues to explore. Clare handles that aspect about as well as I’ve ever seen it done, with tremendous respect for the culture and a really educational and empathetic look at its traditions and their place in modern society. There are enough non-Native characters in the story that the explanations can be worked in very naturally; the hero shows off what he knows to impress the heroine, but he also needs to learn more so that he can understand her. I never felt like I was getting an info-dump, but at the same time there was a lot of information, fascinating and completely relevant to the story.

I loved the connection between the two main characters — great chemistry, but also great respect for each other and for self. No doormats here! They got to work as partners on the investigation; watching the couple work together is a big plus for me in romance. I was really pulling for them to work things out, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The suspense plot is great, too. It’s not too convoluted, but also not transparent. The motives of the bad guys are straightforward and make sense; they are clearly in the wrong, but they aren’t sick twisted psychos. The violence stayed beneath my intolerance threshold, which isn’t very high, but I’m not sure I could have taken it without the certainty that this was a ROMANCE. I immediately recommended this book to my sister, who reads a lot of romantic suspense. WIN!

The only downside, if you can call it that, is that reading this book did not shrink my TBR pile. Instead, I added the rest of the books in the series!

EDITED TO ADD: I’m so happy for Pamela that this book won the AAR Readers’ Poll Award for Best Romantic Suspense. You can see the full list of winners in all the categories, and some responses from the winning authors, here.

Wot I Read in January

Gosh this post is late. February is nearly half over! So far this has been a really busy year, and both reading and blogging have suffered. I only read ten full-length books last month, along with an anthology and a number of shorter works. (With some digital books, I’m not even sure what constitutes full-length anyway.)  The upside of that is that I only actually bought and read one new and one used book. I borrowed three from the library and three from friends, while I read four e-ARCs and downloaded three free reads from authors’ web sites. Since it was an expensive month in other ways (car repairs and registration, not to mention the new puppy), it was nice to have a month where Borders and Amazon didn’t get all my hard-earned money.

Historical Romance I only read three this month, two backlist titles and one new book.  They were all good.

More Than You Wished, by Jo Goodman, was my TBR challenge review for January. WIN

Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand, by Carla Kelly, borders on inspirational romance, and I think that’s what Kelly does best. As with her previous  books, the characters are basically really good people who have to suffer a lot to get together, and people around them suffer even more (death, illness, poverty). I liked the heroine’s determination to preserve her family and her honesty about sexual desire. WIN

The Lady Most Likely, by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway, was a delightful book. I like all three authors’ work, and I thought they did a terrific job of combining their characters and their stories into a single book. I’m sure that was a lot more difficult that just writing individual novellas; I hope they feel that the effort was worthwhile.  WIN

Contemporary Romance

The Guy Next Door is an anthology containing stories by Lori Foster, Susan Donovan, and Victoria Dahl. I’ve never encountered a Foster book that I wanted to read, I liked the one Donovan I read before, and Victoria Dahl is on my auto-buy list.  These shorter pieces pretty much confirmed my position on all three of those.  The Foster story, “Ready, Set, Jett,” was okay, but I just didn’t get into it all the way. For one thing, I didn’t really feel that there was anything seriously keeping the characters apart; they didn’t have much to overcome except a little personal idiocy. I’ll be honest and say that the “I only wanted sex and now I have feelings that confuse me” plot doesn’t often work for me.  Donovan’s “Gail’s Gone Wild” was a cute story, but the mother in me had trouble sitting back to enjoy it. While I love the idea that the mother of a teenager deserves a spring fling if she wants one, I kept worrying that the teenagers were going to get into trouble due to her rather lax supervision. YMMV big time on this one.  Dahl’s “Just One Taste” was my favorite story of the three, even though it’s a prequel to her upcoming series. It’s sexy and fun, and I wasn’t disappointed by the lack of a traditional happy ending, because it’s obvious the story between these two characters is far from over. For a reader not necessarily planning to read that series, I can see how it might be frustrating, but it wasn’t for me.  Overall, this collection gets a PASS.

Dream a Little Dream and Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, are the first books I’ve read by this author. [I know, I know, but remember that I didn’t read romance AT ALL in the 1990s and early 2000s.] Both were good, but I liked the second one just a little bit better — both the hero and heroine were more to my taste, and the overall story was more believable. WIN

Forever (Rules of the Game and Heart’s Victory) by Nora Roberts, is a re-release of two of her category romances, both having to do with sports. Rules of the Game features a baseball player (a third baseman!) and the woman directing him in a series of television commercials. As usual, the specific setting of the book is detailed and involving; Roberts does her homework, and it shows even in a short book. She plays around with stereotypes about cocky star athletes and temperamental creative types, and it was a WIN for me. The other book, set in the world of professional car racing, seemed familiar to me, and a few chapters from the end, I realized that I had definitely read it before. That’s where I stopped, because I remembered that the ending made me angry last time. DNF

Prince Charming of Harley Street, by Anne Fraser, is from the Harlequin Medical line. It struck me the same way that Carla Kelly’s did, in that the hero and heroine are both extremely good and nice, and they would get together easily and naturally without the external obstacle (in this case, a brain aneurysm) threatening their future. PASS

“Colters’ Wife” and Colters’ Daughter, by Maya Banks, were both free reads. The first is the author’s free epilogue to Colters’ Woman; I downloaded it and read it as background to the longer story that I received from the author as an ARC. I hadn’t read the previous Colter books because I rarely read ménage romance; it’s hard for me to believe that the sharing works, particularly when multiple men are involved and they do not sexually encounter/enjoy each other. Since the arrangement has already been worked out, I was able to enjoy “Colters’ Wife” not as a romance but as an interesting family story. Colters’ Daughter intrigued me because the heroine specifically does not want the kind of shared-partner arrangement in which she was raised.  She is a “one-man woman,” very much so because she is a sexual submissive.  I liked the book but didn’t love it, mostly because I didn’t think the hero had to work hard enough to regain the heroine’s trust after lying to her. This is often a problem for me in Harlequin Presents, too,  where the heroes have LOTS of money and sometimes spend their way to forgiveness. PASS

Fantasy/Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance I’m putting these all together because there’s a lot of cross-over; all the fantasy I read this month was either urban or romance.

Stone Kissed, by Keri Stevens, is a paranormal romance very much to my taste. There’s a vampire, but that’s the villain. The heroine has an unusual power — stone statues talk to her, and how that works and how it complicates and enriches her life is all developed really well. The romance is sexy and challenging for both partners, there are some wonderful trust issues to resolve, and neither the relationship resolution nor the adventure plot gets short-changed.  WIN

“Ember” by Betty Sharpe was free from the author’s web site, and I’m looking forward to paying for some of her work. This is a nicely erotic re-envisioning of the Cinderella story; I’m a sucker for retold fairy tales, and this one was wonderful at turning so many of the familiar elements on their heads. WIN

Evangeline, by Gwen Williams, is also an erotic fairy tale, but it didn’t work nearly as well for me. The writing was a little repetitive, particularly the erotic/romantic portions. I honestly wasn’t very invested in the lovers as a couple.  The suspense plot depended too much on the reader being kept in the dark for my taste.  PASS

“Future Tense” by Carolyn Jewel is free on the author’s web site. It’s a short story in her ongoing Witches series, which is one of my very favorite paranormal romance series. (I wrote about my taste in PNR, and about Carolyn’s series, among others, here, and about the latest book in the series here.) This short story features two really strong characters with powerful chemistry between them; it is a good addition to the series, even at this shorter length. WIN

Blood and Iron, by Elizabeth Bear, is a very good piece of urban fantasy. She’s an excellent writer, and she explores her variation of the dark and light sides of Faery, and the complex interaction between our world and Faery, in an original and engrossing way.  While I didn’t love this book quite as much as I did the two Promethean books set in the Elizabethan age, it was still a great read. WIN

Social Media At Work

Here’s anecdotal evidence that social media networking by authors really does sell books. Well, it sold one book, anyway. I had never heard of this book, or the author, until last week when someone I follow on Twitter re-tweeted something. It was a tweet from Stephanie Dray that included a link to her blog post “Has the Romance Genre Contaminated Historical Fiction?,” expressing some thoughts with which I heartily agree. Her web site is very attractive, so after reading the blog post, I looked around a bit and quickly found an excerpt from this, her debut novel. I read the excerpt and thought I would probably like the book; I read quite a bit of historical fiction.  Today in our local independent bookstore, I saw a copy on display and it really jumped out at me. Oh yes, I remembered, I wanted to read that — so I bought it.

See how easy that is? An author on Twitter, not pimping her book but expressing her thoughts and posting links to something thoughtful she has written about her genre. Someone finds that worth sharing, someone who follows her on Twitter (presumably because she makes worthwhile posts), and because I follow that person (same reason), it comes to my attention. I read, am intrigued, and since the author has a web site that looks good, is simple to navigate, and does not play music, I read a little more. There is an excerpt, so I get a sense that her writing style is one I would enjoy. Then when I see the book on sale, I buy it, even though I don’t make a habit of paying full price for trade paperbacks by debut authors.

That’s how you sell books using social media.