Monday, March 23, 2009

Westward expansion

The other day during my drive home from work I was suddenly assailed by an overwhelming urge to read a historical Western romance. Trust me, I was as confused as you are! A Western? Really? I think if you look at my track record of book selections, when it comes to low man on the totem pole that subgenre is only trumped by Historicals set pre-1750 (which I tend to avoid like the plague.)

Why do I avoid Western romances? I can sum it up in one word: heroine. It seems that there are only two Western heroines: 1) the pampered East Coast deb who arrives in the Wild West unprepared for the harsh realities of frontier life, or 2) the pampered daughter of the big ranch owner (who was probably sent away to school out East where she learned to be a lady.) Both of these scenarios often lend towards the TSTL heroine. The sun is setting and lightening is flashing over the mountains? Why, I think I will suddenly decide to go on a walkabout. The local Comanche tribe has been raiding and killing settlers? Of course I will walk up to the bold, shirtless warrior and start giving him a piece of my mind. There is trouble brewing and that bold, shirtless warrior is riding hell bent for leather towards my home with a dozen of his friends? Oh where is my Pa? I couldn't possibly pick up that shotgun and try using it myself.

Ok, Ok, I know those are generalizations. I am also aware that this is another example of Old School romance not clicking with me. Let's face it, most Historical Westerns were written in the 80's, the land of the Big Mis and wilting flower heroine.

I know not all books written during that time period stuck to that mold. I know that there have been Westerns written more recently that would eschew the stereotypes. But which ones are they? Where is the Western with a heroine like Jessica Trent (Lord of Scoundrels) or Lydia Grenville (The Last Hellion)? Which Western has a hero that is not domineering, that appreciates a woman who is self-sufficient and sarcastic?

Can you tell me the name of these books? I really need to feed this sudden Western romance craving.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Belated blogoversary

In the midst of the craziness of real life, and the fact that I was sucked into The Last Hellion (my love affair with Loretta Chase may be solidifying into twue wuv), something important slipped my mind.

One year ago this past Friday, What Women Read came into existence. Full of excitement and energy I vowed to review each book I read. Ah, the innocence. Now, at the ripe old age of one year and two days old, WWR admits that is absolutely not possible. I am OK with that. More than OK with that. It gives me more time to read!

So in honor of my good intentions, our love of romance and the heroes that inspire us, I give you a little blogoversary treat: The Menz of WWR. (Yes, for the moment I claim them for my own.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Windflower Tour: Chicago Stop (A Review)

I am feeling a bit lazy right now.  So lazy, in fact, that I refuse to type up a synopsis of this book. I know, I'm a bad reviewer.  Also, Christine just posted such an amazing synopsis that anything I would cobble together would seem pathetic by comparison.  Don't believe me? Go check it out!
I have to start off by being honest.  Before starting to read The Windflower I was prepared to hate it.  Oh alright, I was convinced I would hate it.  HATE.  After my experience with the dreaded Whitney, My Love I had convinced myself that Old School historicals are not my cup of tea. Because of this, my expectations of The Windflower were very low.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I had an extremely difficult time getting into The Windflower.  It took me two weeks to get past page 150. It never takes me that long to read a book.  It was painful.  If it weren't for the fact that I was reading the book as part of The Tour, I would have put it down and considered it a DNF. I hate admitting defeat with a book.  So I powered through, forcing myself to read despite my determination to hate Merry and Devon.

I am so glad that I did.  No, this was not a perfect example of historical romance.  Yes, Devon was a big fat jerk.  Sure, Merry was TSTL at parts.  But I still liked it.  I know that it was partly because my expectations were so low.  If you expect the book to suck, then you are pleasantly surprised by a halfway decent read. I am aware of this.  Yet I still liked it.

Me, pleasantly surprised

Merry is everything I usually can't stand in a heroine: very young, naive, too pretty for her own good, TSTL, unrealistically spunky, and sometimes a bit of a Mary Sue.  Yet there is something endearing about her.  She brought out the best in those around her (except for Devon, of course.)  Cat and Raven became more human for knowing Merry. She never gave up.  No matter how many curve balls life threw at her, she kept on surviving. Merry is that girl you want to hate, but just can't.

Devon is an ass.  I know that.  Hell, it was evident in every one of his actions.  In the beginning his treatment of Merry was inexcusable.  Later, his intentions were more noble, if misguided.  I came to understand why he made his choices, even if I didn't agree with them.  Their attraction was clear.  From moment one, they were drawn to one another.  I bought it.  Their love and HEA? Not quite as realistic.  Devon didn't give Merry many reasons to fall in love with him.  The way he treated her in the beginning would have made anyone (besides an 80's historical romance heroine) punch him in the nose and never speak to his sorry ass again.  In some ways Merry's love smacked of teenage puppy love. Devon went from "I desire her, but cannot stand her" to "I love her, but must not sully her" far too abruptly. But again, my expectations were bottom-of-the-ocean low, so I was still pleased with the end result.

If the book had solely been focused on Merry and Devon it would have fallen flat for me.  Sweet, annoying, but nothing to write home about.  The saving grace was in the form of the secondary characters.  At the start of the book I kept reading so that I could get more of Cat.  Later it was Cat and Raven.  Had sequels been written, I would have wanted to read their stories.  Cat was this wonderful, multi-layered, tortured soul.  Had this book been written today, I would almost expect his character to be gay.  Perhaps the fact that he was not makes his relationship with Merry all the more poignant.  Raven was the youthful heart of the story.  He is no innocent boy, but there was a purity and honesty to his character that made him unique.  It also landed him into a heap of trouble.  He was unrepentant, and I loved it.

Homer gives his woof of approval even though the character is named Cat. (man my phone camera sucks!)

All in all, I am glad I forced myself to go on reading.  Not a favorite, but not a Dreaded (Old School) Historical.  If you like the subgenre, especially those from the 80's, you should definitely give it a shot.  Others? Proceed at your own risk. Enter into this reading relationship with the understanding that it may not be all sunshine and roses.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review: A Julie James 2-fer

I had the great pleasure of meeting local author, Julie James this past weekend.  She is just as lovely in person as she is online!  I love that I can say that and also say that she is one fabulous writer. Seriously.  Do you like a straight up Contemporary Romance? Then she is a must read.  Having recently finished reading her two releases, I have added Julie to my auto-buy list.  Yes, her books are that great.

Nothing fazes Taylor Donovan. In the courtroom she never lets the opposition see her sweat. In her personal life, she never lets any man rattle her–not even her cheating ex-fiancĂ©. So when she’s assigned to coach People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for his role in his next big legal thriller, she refuses to fall for the Hollywood heartthrob’s charms. Even if he is the Jason Andrews.
Jason Andrews is used to having women fall at his feet. When Taylor Donovan gives him the cold shoulder, he’s thrown for a loop. She’s unlike any other woman he’s ever met: uninterested in the limelight, seemingly immune to his advances, and shockingly capable of saying no to him. She’s the perfect challenge. And the more she rejects him, the more he begins to realize that she may just be his perfect match. . .
Taylor is a Chicago girl temporarily living in California.  Midwest sensibilities meet Hollywood glitz.  She is smart, driven, sassy, sarcastic. Jason is the hotest man in showbiz, recently named Sexiest Man Alive for the third year in a row.  Better than Brad Pitt (according to Ms. James.) He is cocky, arrogant, expects women to fall at his feet.  Then he meets Taylor.  She was having none of that.  Sure he is good looking, but does that mean she has to put her life on hold for the man? Hell no! Instead of blushing and stammering, Taylor puts Jason in his place, much to his confusion and his best friend's enjoyment.  Each time they meet sparks fly, verbal sparring ensues.  Taylor vows not to let the Hollywood playboy get under her skin.  Jason is determined to get Taylor underneath him.  But what happens when they start to realize that they like more than the challenge, they like each other?

Payton Kendall and J.D. Jameson are lawyers who know the meaning of objection. A feminist to the bone, Payton has fought hard to succeed in a profession dominated by men. Born wealthy, privileged, and cocky, J.D. has fought hard to ignore her. Face to face, they’re perfectly civil. They have to be. For eight years they’ve kept a safe distance and tolerated each other as co-workers for one reason only: to make partner at the firm.
But all bets are off when they’re asked to join forces on a major case. At first apprehensive, they begin to appreciate each other’s dedication to the law—and the sparks between them quickly turn into attraction. But the increasingly hot connection doesn’t last long when they discover that only one of them will be named partner. Now it’s an all out war. And the battle between the sexes is bound to make these lawyers hot under the collar . . .
Payton and J.D. never have a sincerely nice word to say to one another.  Competitive, philosophically and politically opposed, they have rubbed each other the wrong way from day one.  It is quite a bumpy road getting from there to rubbing each other the right way, but boy is it worth it!  Payton and J.D. snipe and snarl, spark fly and heat rises.  Legal libraries will never be the same.  They are battling one another for a partnership in their firm, while battling the feelings they have for one another.

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a straight up contemp as much as I did these two books.  Let's put it this way, I was up until 3AM on Saturday night reading. I was completely hooked on these characters. Here's the unique part, I was hooked on the heroines!  I am a hero kind of gal.  When I finish a book I usually remember details about Lord or Mr. Hotness. The heroine usually comes in second.  Julie has managed something that very few others have done, made me love the heroine as much or more than the hero. These ladies are spunky, smart, sarcastic, flawed, independent, hopeful, and real.  I can imagine actually knowing them.  I may be terribly jealous (hey, they're gorgeous and own shoes I could never justify on a teacher salary!), but these are the type of women you are friends with.  I have not connected with a heroine in the same way since Jane in Mr. Perfect.  And you all know how I feel about that book. Best ever!

You know the best part of it all? Julie is as nice as she is talented.  And we Chicagoans get to claim her as one of our own. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interview: Julie James

Normally when I stay up late into the night ignoring the fact that I should be sleeping (my students just don't understand what sleep deprivation does to their music teacher!) it's because I am caught in the grips of a dark paranormal romance or the intrigue of a romantic suspence.  Rarely does this happen with a straight up contemporary.  When it does, it is a rare and beautiful thing.  When it does happen, it is with a book like Just the Sexiest Man Alive.

After reading the book and discovering that the author, Julie James, is a fellow Chicagoan, I just had to contact her for an interview.  I was ever so pleased when she agreed.  (Extreme understatement.) Now with her latest book, Practice Makes Perfect, fresh on the shelves she is getting ready for a signing this coming Saturday.  Before I get my grabby little hands on the book (and meet Julie for the first time), she and I had a little chat...

Me: Hi Julie, welcome to What Women Read!  I am so glad you could join me over here. So let's get to it! When did you first realize you wanted to write?

Julie: First of all, let me start by saying thanks so much for having me here, Shannon! In terms of when I first realized I wanted to write, that actually took me awhile to figure out. I'm a lawyer, and I spent several years practicing at a large firm in Chicago before I even began to think about writing. But somewhere along the way, I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a romantic comedy film. So in my spare time, I wrote a screenplay. Having no idea whether it was any good, I started querying agents and managers in Hollywood. The screenplay was well-received, and I signed with an agent who optioned the script to a producer. I wrote a second script, which was also optioned. After that happened, I began to think about writing as a career. I thought about it for a long time (during which I wrote three more screenplays), and then ultimately decided to quit my job to write full-time. It was a nerve-wracking decision, but happily one that I've never regretted.

Me:  What was it like when you sold your first book?

Julie:  Amazing!! And partially because it happened at such a crazy time-- my son was about two weeks old when my agent called and said that Berkley wanted to buy Just the Sexiest Man Alive as part of a two-book deal. She told me that they wanted to know what my second book would be, and that I needed to put together a synopsis, and here I was panicking and thinking, "Um... I have a fourteen day-old baby, I barely have time to shower..." So I came up with a rough idea, and I pitched it to my editor while I was outside, pushing my son in the stroller, because it was the only time I could be certain he'd fall asleep. And I didn't want to cross over onto any busy streets that might wake him up, or past the "L" tracks, so I basically walked up and down this one block for the entire half-hour phone call. I'm sure the people living in those houses thought I was either crazy or majorly sleep-deprived.

Me:  When starting a new book, do you start with character or plot?

Julie:  I usually start with the plot, but just the very basic idea. Then I develop the characters, and they tell me what they're going to do and what the outline of the story will be.

Me:  Can you describe your writing process?

Julie:  I'm a plotter. I come up with the basic idea, then I think about who the heroine and hero are, and after that I sit down and outline. I write detailed outlines-- like twenty pages or so-- that include plot, motives, character background, and even some snippets of dialogue. I do detailed outlines because that's how I can tell if I have enough of a story to sustain an entire book. What's funny, though, is that after drafting the outline, I hardly ever look at it while I'm actually writing the book. By then the entire story is so well mapped out in my head, I don't really need it.

Me:  Since your characters work in the same profession as you have, what kind of research do you do for your books?

Julie: I didn't have to do any research for either of the heroines in my first two books, since they both practice the exact type of law I specialized in, employment discrimination defense. It's the heroes that have required more. When I was writing Jason, the movie star hero of Just the Sexiest Man Alive, I did little bits of research here and there--box office revenue, whether any celebrity has ever been named "Sexiest Man Alive" three times--fun things like that. For the hero of Practice Makes Perfect, I conveniently was able to talk to my husband, who specializes in class action defense just like J.D. does. Ooh-- and I've also had to do research into cars, because I define my male characters by the kind of vehicle they drive: Jason drives an Aston Martin, J.D. drives a Bentley, and the hero of the book I'm currently writing, an FBI agent, drives a motorcycle.
Me:  If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Julie:  Whew-- what a tough question! Hmm... there's nothing that jumps out at me that I would change with Practice Makes Perfect. That being said, there were definitely times when writing the book that I thought, "Uh-oh, can I do this?" Since both of the characters are strong-willed and determined to one-up the other in their war to make partner, there were occasions when I would know what the character wanted to do, but I worried about whether his or her actions were crossing the line. But then I just decided that if their actions were real and true, that's what I needed to write--even if I was sitting at my computer going, "I can't believe he/she just did that!"

Me:  What do you do if/when writers block strikes or motivation lags?

Julie:  Knock on wood, I don't really get writer's block where I can't think of anything to write. But what does happen is that I'll try to write a scene that's just not working. I'll be spinning my wheels, writing and deleting, over and over. What I need to do then, as much as I hate leaving a scene unfinished, is just get up and walk away from the computer. I'll take the dog for a walk, or go get coffee or work-out, and I swear within minutes of not thinking about it, the way to fix the scene will come to me. I think, sometimes, the subconscious needs to take over when our conscious self is trying too hard.

Me:  What was it like to write a book set in your hometown?

Julie:  I loved writing a story that takes place in Chicago! So much so that I decided to set my third book here as well. It's great for a lot of reasons: first of all, it saves me time having to do location research. Second, and more important, I love being able to showcase Chicago because it's such an amazing city. I use a lot of actual locations and landmarks in the book--bars, restaurants, Wrigley Field, the federal courthouse-- and hopefully those scenes capture the essence of the city.

Me:  What is next on your horizon?

Julie:  I've just finished writing the first draft of my third book for Berkley/Penguin and I'm really excited about it! It's about a female Assistant U.S. Attorney who by chance witnesses a high-profile murder involving a U.S. Senator. The FBI agent assigned to the investigation is a man from her past that she doesn't get along with. The proverbial sparks fly as the two of them work together on the case, and even more so when it turns out that the killer might be after her. It's another romantic comedy set in Chicago, although I do sneak in a thrill or two with this one.

Me:   What book are you reading now?
Julie:  I'm currently reading Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock for my book club. And then next up in my TBR pile is Fragile by Shiloh Walker and Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood.
Me:  Favorite color?
Julie:  Blue
Me:  Favorite author?
Julie:  Jane Austen. I love all of her books, although Pride and Prejudice is my favorite-- I re-read it every year.
Me:  Do you ever use music as inspiration while writing? If so, what songs inspired your books?
Julie:  Absolutely! I come up with a playlist that I think goes with the tone of whatever book I'm writing and I listen to those songs whenever I'm having trouble getting the right feel of a scene. For Just the Sexiest Man Alive, one of those songs was "Inner Smile" by Texas (from the Bend it Like Beckham soundtrack) and for Practice Makes Perfect, one song I listened to a lot was "Tenderness" by General Public. The songs for the book I'm currently writing were a little different: because the book has this sort of noir-ish suspense subplot, I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday, and, oddly, "Disturbia" by Rihanna. Kind of a strange combination. : )
Me:  Do you have any advice for other writers?
Julie:  One thing I would encourage aspiring writers to do is to pay attention to dialogue. Make it sound real. Sure, sometimes characters say exactly what they're thinking and feeling, but a lot of times they don't. Oh-- and write male characters that speak and think like actual men-- not the way us women sometimes wish they spoke and thought!
Thank you so much, Julie!!!  Now I can't wait until Saturday when we get to meet and I can dive in to Practice Makes Perfect.  Any Chicagoans out there?  Come joins us! 
Saturday, March 14th
Barnes and Noble
1441 Webster Ave.
Chicago, IL.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Windflower update!

I have finally finished the book. It only took... good gawd! Two weeks.  That's what happens when RL gets complicated.  I will have my thoughts and review up soon. Just know that the tour has finally gained momentum again!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A new adventure

I am finally getting to the point in Windflower where I am eager to pick it up. It was slow going at first. I still have quite a ways to go, but I plan to finish it up by Friday. Review to come this weekend. I promise! (I’m so sorry I am holding up the tour!)

In the meantime I thought I would share a new experience with you all. I have listening to an audio book for the first time. I know, I know, I am late to the game, as always. Living in Chicago means driving in Chicago. For those of you unfamiliar with this experience, it is a frustrating experience. There is no rhyme or reason to the congestion. You can leave at the same time every day, traveling the same pathway, and have a commute that last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. I have been sick of the local radio stations (hello! There are more than 20 songs out there!) so I decided to take the plunge into audio books.

I checked out my local library and saw that I had two options. I could get a book on CD, but my car is just old enough that I came with a tape player. Instead, I picked up a Playaway book. This is a preloaded mp3 device that is loaded with one audio book. Most of the Playaway selections for adults fall into the more serious “literature” genre. I could listen to Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but I wanted something a little more fluffy for my first foray into audio books. I decided to peek into the children’s section of the library and, huzzah! For the past week or two I have been listening to Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. It is one of her many books that take place in her world, Tortall. I am keeping my series OCD in check by reminding myself that it is the first of her Immortals series. It just happens to share the same world as her previous Lioness series. (So far that justification has been working.)

Something that I am enjoying about this recording is that they have used different people to voice the characters. I know this is not the case in “adult” novels. It brings the characters to life in a different way. While the author does a fabulous job with narration, I just can’t imagine her voice being effective for Sarge (a large black man in charge of training the new recruits, very military.) The male characters are all voiced by men, the female by women.

The story is interesting. I had to get used to Ms. Pierce’s writing and reading voice in the beginning, but I am now eager to get in my car for the daily trek home. I have even chosen to listen to it in the morning instead of my favorite AM radio show!

I still have quite a ways to go with the book, but my commute is certainly not going to disappear. And these days, that commute is a whole lot more fun!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Larissa Ione takes on the DIK

That's right, your favorite dark paranormal author and mine is taking on the DIK blog for the next three days. Come on over and see what she has to say...