Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A recipe for romance

I love to cook. More to the point, I love to try cooking something new. I take a little of this and mix it with a little of that. I throw it in a pot with a dash or a sprinkle of whatever sounds good, give it a mix and cook until done. Sometimes it is a complete flop. Usually, the dish just misses the mark by a small margin. It either is too spicy or too bland. Maybe there is too much onion, or not enough shrimp. Something is just a little bit off. Then there are those wondrous times when all of the ingredients come together in a perfect balance. It is hearty and savory without being too spicy. The tomatoes don't get too watery and the garlic permeates the entire dish. (Can you tell I am anxiously waiting on my homemade spaghetti sauce to finish cooking? I have a long wait ahead.) This precise balance of ingredients, seasonings, heat and time produces an end product that you want to sit back and savor.

I think this is also true in writing. It is all about balance. Character development, action, smexin', and plot. Each element needs it's time in the spotlight. It is the author's job, just like the chef's, to make sure that each one is measured out just enough to allow it to come to its full flavor. This is what sets successful authors apart from less successful authors. Those who have become master chefs at the craft of writing are the authors whose books make us want to turn back to page 1 after finishing the epilogue.

For me, one author who manages this balancing act time and again is Elizabeth Hoyt. I just love her writing. I have already read and reviewed The Raven Prince and Hot. Both were fabulous. Within the past two weeks I bought and read The Leopard Prince and To Taste Temptation. (I still need to hunt down The Serpent Prince.) Ms. Hoyt gives you interesting, well developed characters whose interactions are by turns amusing and intense. There is always an intrigue or mystery, something to get the characters moving or fighting or planning. When her heroes and heroines come together the sparks fly. Hot, sexy, and (my fave) very few flowery euphemisms. Damn hot sex. Her stories are just plain fun and interesting.
In The Leopard Prince we see Harry Pye once again. He was first introduced to readers in The Raven Prince. As a land steward, Harry knows that Georgina Maitland is far above his station. To want her is to reach for the sky. Georgina is 28 years old and owns the estate on which she lives. What could she possibly need a man for? Oh right... that. Well, Harry Pye is a man, and what a man he is! Suddenly, sheep are dying and folks are blaming Harry. It seems that there is bad blood between Harry and Georgina's neighbor. But is it bad enough for Harry to enact a long await revenge by killing the livestock on the neighbor's lands? Georgina does not believe so.

Ms. Hoyt's heroines are among my favorite in historical romances. Strong, mature, self-assured, experienced, outspoken. They are very contemporary women who live in historical times, yet not to the point where it in unbelievable. Her heroes are one thing that is often difficult to find from a single author: diverse. Edward was a physically scarred Earl who would far prefer to stay in the country and study agriculture. Harry is a commoner, a land steward whose past haunts him and drives him to succeed. Samuel was a brash American colonial soldier-turned-business man who disdains English society and snubs his nose at the ton by ignoring convention (and wearing moccasins to grand balls.) The chemistry she creates between her H&h is flaming hot.

In To Taste Temptation Ms. Hoyt begins a new series based around a fairy tale about four soldiers. Samuel has come to London in search of answers to what happened one fateful day to the 28th Regiment. His former commanding officer perished as a result of that day, but his sister was alive and well in London. When the two meet they mix like oil and water. Samuel is uncouth, arrogant, and mysterious. Lady Emeline is cultures, aristocratic, and just a bit uptight. Oh baby, do these two clash, and the results are fantastic. Trust me. Go read it. Yes, she is kind of awful to him in the beginning, but trust me, you want to keep reading. Two words: country party. Oh, two more words: linen closet. ::fans self::

I am such a fan that, when I found out I had the opportunity to meet Ms Hoyt at a signing this past weekend I knew I had to ask her for an interview. Such a gracious woman, she said yes. What did she say in the interview? Well that, my friends, is something you will have to wait for. In the meantime, I am going to go check on my spaghetti sauce. The aroma of garlic and basil is just starting to waft through my apartment. Mmmmm...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Comfort reads

Comfort reads. We all have them, those books we turn to time and again like a worn, nubby security blanket. They are the books that fill our hands in times of stress and soothe our anxieties by wrapping us in the comfort of a familiar world. The characters live in our minds and our hearts, old friends to be revisited. These are not always the best, most well written books we have in our collections. There is just something about the writing or the characters or the plot that worms its way into our beings. These are books that will never be thrown away (blasphemy!), given away or sold to a UBS. These are keepers, but with a special distinction: they have the most creases in their spines and folds on their covers. Pages are dogeared, corners are frayed, but they do not lose value for this wear and tear. No no, quite the opposite. These imperfections are badges of honor, a sign that they are well and truly loved.

I just cracked open a book this morning that I have not read in years. I had to pick up a copy at a UBS yesterday (which is a whole other fabulous event that I will blog about!) In the first paragraph I felt myself sinking deep into the comfort of the words. This made me chuckle a bit. You see, I have realized lately that most of my comfort reads are full of action, guns, and sometimes blood. I think I may be weird. I wonder what it is about the actiony bits that pulls me in. But I digress, this is not a post about actiony bits, or dangly bits.... mmmm, manly bits. Ehem, yes. Back to comfort reads. My list is ever evolving, but the core of it includes:

- Mr. Perfect (and most of Linda Howard's "classics" like After the Night and Open Season)
- the Troubleshooter series by Suze Brockmann
- The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros
- Patricia Briggs werewolf books (Mercy's series and now Anna's book)
- Red Rose by Mary Balogh (a great little category she wrote years ago and I have since lost. NOOOO!!!!)

What are your comfort reads? Which books do you turn to over and over despite having passages memorized? Which titles, characters, plots do you crave when real life knocks you around a bit?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Challenge? I accept!

Our lovely friend Sarai posted the other day about a book challenge that she has decided to take on. It is the Ban On Spending Book Challenge. Yep, that's right. No spending money on books until your list is finished. Since I have a seriously book buying problem (nine books in the last week!) this is going to be a MAJOR challenge for me. I need to save some money, so this comes along at the perfect time. Here are the rules:

Guidelines for the 2008 Ban on Spending Book Challenge:

1. No purchasing books for yourself until all the books listed are gone. No purchasing books for other people with the intention of reading them after they are finished. Library or other borrowed books can’t be listed.

2. Any books won in a raffle or given to me as a gift will be added to this list.

3. Books to be reviewed for promo companies, other blogs, authors, etc. do not count and are not added to this list.

4. Start anytime and list as many or as few books as needed. Once all books are checked off from the list, the ban is lifted and the spending can begin again.

5. The ending date for each person can vary to a few weeks or months as long as it doesn’t exceed December 31, 2008. This ban can be lifted earlier if all books listed have been read or donated.
6. If you don't have a blog and would like to still join, list your books in the comment section below.

I sense a little loop hole of sorts. Since I would not be spending money on the book, I can still borrow them from the library. That will help if I get burned out on paranormal romances. I seem to have a TON of them. Although, really, how could I get sick of romantic vamps and shape shifters? I do need to cheat just a slight little bit. Maybe I won't say cheat, perhaps I will just say that I start the challenge on Sunday. See, Elizabeth Hoyt is doing a signing in the area on Saturday. It would be very unclassy if I did not buy one of her books at the signing. Just saying. So I will include the book from the signing on my list. Look to the sidebar to track my progress and help me keep on top of this.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I am up at the DIK

It is my turn at the DIK blog for the next three days. Stop by and read my ramblings over there. There will be books, boys and who knows what else. Come on over. You know you wanna.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Yes, I really have been reading!

I have actually been reading quite a bit this summer. Sadly, my urge to blog has been almost non-existent. Then there was the two week Internet blackhole. I need to actually pay for an Internet connection. Soon! After I move, which may or may not be in the next two months. But as I was saying, I have read a number of books. I feel like I should mention some of them, but can't quite bring myself to write full reviews of them all. Therefore I once again present you with "This book in a nutshell."

Book: Whitney, My Love
Author: Judith McNaught
Genre:  Historical Romance
Whitney Stone's teenage crush on a neighbor has her cold, unfeeling father banishing her to Paris into the care of her aunt and uncle. Under their loving guidance, the young woman blossoms into a ravishing beauty and becomes the darling of glittering Parisian society--a fact not lost on the handsome and equally powerful Duke of Claymore, who determines to make her his wife. Despite the duke's fervent interest, Whitney remains fixed on her childhood love. That is, until she finds herself tempted by the Duke--an attraction that both delights and baffles Whitney, causing her to be increasingly wary of what her heart may lead her to do. The Duke suffers no such confusion. He wants Whitney. And he plans to have her, despite a number of obstacles, including the infatuation Whitney seems to have for another; her aunt's growing concerns; and her greedy father's bungling efforts to control his beautiful daughter. But before the Duke and Whitney's plans can reach fruition, they'll have to work their way through a morass of misunderstandings that threaten any hope of a happy ending.
This book seems to be a bit of a classic.  I have heard it mentioned numerous times in glowing terms.  Based on this I requested it from my library, and I have to say... really?  Truly?  I guess I just don't get it.  The book started off just fine.  I love a heroine, especially a historical heroine, who is so completely outside the mold that she is looked down upon.  The gal who is too spunky or outspoken or a tomboy.  Then add in a hero who is draw to them for the very reasons society shuns them.  I love it, and this book gave it to me.  BUT.  Yes, that is a very big but. By the end of the book I felt as though Ms. McNaught was engaged in a dare.  A dare to see just how many Big Misunderstandings it was possibly to fit into one book.  There were numerous times that the book could have ended quite satisfyingly.  Nope.  We had to add another tragic misunderstanding.  By the end I was ready to tell the H&h to just walk away.  And then!  Then the book was suddenly about the hero's brother.  What?  Annoying.  I actually still have not finish the last 15 pages.  I had to put it down before I threw it out the window.  That would have been bad.  Remember? Library book. 

Book: The Charm School
Author:  Susan Wiggs
Genre:  Historical Romance
Isadora Peabody is the brilliant but socially inept sibling in an otherwise perfect family. And although she struggles to fit into Boston society, her awkwardness dooms her to repeated failure. Fate intervenes when she learns that a sea captain, Ryan Calhoun, is in need of an interpreter for his next voyage to Rio. And despite Ryan's adamant opposition to hiring a female interpreter, Isadora gains a berth on his ship, thanks to a little blackmail.

Life aboard ship and away from the strict confines of Boston society finds Isadora losing weight, gaining confidence, and blooming like a rose. She befriends the motley crew of rough sailors, and in turn, they become a charm school of sorts, tutoring her in gracefulness--which comes in handy when climbing the rope rigging--dancing, and friendship. Isadora's transformation fascinates Ryan, but he is determined to stay away from her for he has secretive, dangerous plans. Unaware of Ryan's interest, Isadora struggles with her growing attraction to the reckless sea captain. But before they can resolve their feelings, prior commitments surface and endanger their chance of finding a happy future together.
I know that many readers have had issues with the fact that the crew or the ship knew enough about social graces to instruct Isadora.  I read so much griping about this that I expected it to be over the top silly.  I think this is a case of going in with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised.  I thought the book was cute and sweet.  I loved the ugly duckling analogy.  Isadora was a great character and her evolution was not simply physical, but emotional, as well. Ryan was flawed and in some ways immature.  This made him seem more real to me.  He had noble intentions and a good heart. I enjoyed his friendship with Journey and his interactions with his mother.  The chemistry and tension between Ryan and Isadora was believable, as was the fact that they both fought against it in the beginning.  A fun read.
Book:  Summer by the Sea
Author: Susan Wiggs
Genre: Contemporary
Two childhood friends negotiate the rough waters of love in Wiggs's newest contemporary romance, which starts out as a typical love-between-the-classes tale, but evolves into something richer. Successful Rhode Island restaurateur Rosa Capoletti seems to have her life in order. Her restaurant, Celesta's-by-the-Sea, has been lauded by the New York Times, she's surrounded by friends, and she has finally achieved financial stability. But when her old flame Alexander Montgomery, whose family name is synonymous with wealth, walks into Celesta's, Rosa realizes that she hasn't moved forward emotionally since he abruptly ended their relationship 12 years earlier. As the two cautiously renew their love, they must come to terms with the tensions between their families and the long-held secret that led to their initial breakup. Although their romance is compelling, sweeter still are the flashbacks of their burgeoning friendship.
After reading Charm School I put Susan Wiggs on my To Buy list.  I am so glad I did.  While the two books have nothing in common, both are very good.  Even better Summer By the Sea has one of my all time favorite plot devices: lost or first loves reunited.  There is just something about a second chance at love that gets me every time.  I think, maybe, it gives me hope.  (Let's just say I am keeping my fingers crossed... this time around.)  Rosa in strong, loud and unabashedly Italian.  Alex is a "summer person."  Old money rich.  Ms. Wiggs does a wonderful job of intertwining present day and past memories together to give the reader a full picture of their relationship.  You see the early friendship, the young love, and the mature relationship.  Yes, there are some Italian-American cliches, but they are stereotypes for a reason: they are very often real.  And can I just say, if Alex were real he would be mine, all mine!
OK, I think that is enough for now.  I will give ya more quickies soon.  Look for some Rachel Morgan/Kim Harrison, an ARC (my first!!!), and Lord of Scoundrels.  I didn't do that one yet, did I?  Ugh. I really need my brain to start working again. I have to go back to school soon!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rooting for the wrong man

In every book the reader is given a hero and a heroine. They may or may not know each other at the onset of the story. They may or may not like each other at the onset. There is the possibility of having a Misunderstanding. There might be Longing. There is likely to be a Great Obstacle. But in the end you root for the two to fall into one another's arms and declare undying love.

But what happens when you don't want them together? What if, despite the author's hard work, you just don't want the hero to choose the heroine (or vice versa)? What if there is another character for whom you are rooting? How does this effect your enjoyment of the book?

I ask this because I am now three books into the Rachel Morgan series by Kim Harrison. I am quite enjoying the stories. Rachel is a fun heroine with many flaws (which she readily admits to having.) Her work partners (a living vamp and a pixie) are interesting characters, giving the interactions between them complex. There is a fabulous "big bad". And there is a small element of romance. (These books are categorized as Urban Fantasy.) Here is where I start to have a problem. ***Slight Spoilers Ahead*** By the end of the first book Rachel has started a relation with a young gentleman. The relationship evolves over the next two books with some very surprising twists. You are supposed to like him. He is supposed to be endearing. To me he seemed shifty. Something just was not kosher. In the third book Rachel starts to move on and gets involved with another guy. I like him better. Better, yet he is not the one I want her to be with. You see, ever since book one I have had this yearning to see Rachel hook up with a specific character. There is one small, niggling problem: he is the bad guy. I know! What could I possibly be thinking? It is just that they have chemistry. The scenes between Rachel and Trent are my favorite scenes in all of the books. By the end of the third book you see a definite evolution in their relationship. This gives me hope. Oh yes it does. Misplaced hope, I am sure. But hope shall spring eternal. ***Spoilers Finished***

So, has this ever happened to you? You read a book and instead of rooting for the hero you become the leader of the boss/bad guy/mysterious stranger/best friend's fan club? Have you ever found yourself rooting for the wrong man?