Benchmark Title: Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Natural Born Charmer
Tatjana Saccio’s notes from the meeting.
Present: Jan, Mary, Eileen, Kim, Michelle, Tricia, Becky, Shelley, Tatjana, Leane
On Romance Books: romance books must have a happy ending to qualify as such (this might rule out some serial books). The romance formula usually has the main characters overcome an initial repulsion to each other, have a climatic crisis, and then end happily-ever-after. The story is usually presented from both the male and female point of view and the main characters figure out where the other one is coming from over the course of the story.
On Sex Appeal: this is tricky. Where is the reader on the sexual balance? Does this book need to be handled with a hot mitt? There are different levels of comfort (from hand holding, peck on the cheek to creative, graphic sex) that we must keep in mind when recommending romance books to readers.
Benchmark Book: Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
• Fun, contemporary romance—no heavy lifting!
• Good, witty repartee
• Give and take with subplots and main relationship between Blue (the Beav) and Dean; good weaving
• Most people liked the family, multi-generational relationships
• Writing has a nice visual appeal
• Dialog sets a good pace
• Appeal in change of views (from his/her point of view)
• Sex appeal! Steamy but not graphic
Dean is the archetype of a perfect man, but he does seem to have dimension as he can “read” people. Blue, aka “The Beav”, is feisty, scrappy and self-sufficient. She’s self-defined. A contemporary damsel in distress.
The secondary characters: Nita Garrison is eccentric, a misfit in town, forthright, and crusty. Great repartee with Blue. April, Riley, and Jack all seem to have a couple of layers to their characters.
Romance Fiction Second Title:
Jan – Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas. Early British Victorian romance (1840’s). Part of a series (the Hathaways) in which each title is about one sibling from a family suddenly thrown into the wealthy ton. Great relationship and antagonism between gypsy Cam and wealthy Amelia. Mystery, adventure and sexual tension play throughout. Character is the main appeal. The sexual tension is midline, descriptive but not graphic.
Tatjana – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. A time-slip novel in which Claire Randall, a former combat nurse from WWII (1945), falls in through a Stonehenge in the British Isles and finds herself thrown in with a bunch of Scottish rogues and Lords during a dangerous time of uprisings in the year 1743. Great romance and dialog between Claire and Scottish heartthrob Jamie Fraser. Adventure, intrigue, wonderful characters and a rich sense of place really round out this multifaceted book. Not explicitly a romance, but can be counted as one because of the enduring, tested love affair between Claire and Jamie. Although this is a first in a series, this title does end happily with the couple together. Gore and sensual sex scenes.
Shelley – Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig. Series, first book is Pink Carnation. A story within a story: contemporary story gives way to a great spy story in the Napoleonic time. This is a well-written novel with witty repartee and good description. Appeal for YAs.
Becky – Flirting with Pete by Barbara Delinsky. Romanctic Suspense. Again, a story within a story: the contemporary story with strong female lead, Casey, intertwines with the story of another woman from a found lost journal. Both romances (Casey and the hot gardener Jordan and Jenny and Pete from the journal) take a while to unfold. The sex is gentler than in the Phillips book. The strong female characters will also appeal to readers of women’s fiction.
Tricia – Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan. Historical romance—1837. Great characters: strong-willed woman and a dark brooding man. Good give and take in relationship. Seduce Me by Robyn Dehart is a historical romance/adventure with an antiquities hunter and a damsel-in-distress. Must have a suspension of belief to enjoy.
Michelle – In for a Penny by Rose Lerner. Regency romance. Plot-driven. Lord Nev and Penny’s characters were refreshing as they were both honest and strong. No build-up in the sexual tension, though. A very low level of sex.
Eileen – Legend by Jude Devereaux. A time-travel tale with contemporary chef Katie going back in time to Legend, Colorado. Katie has a romance and finds that she must save the town in her own time. The romance wasn’t fully developed. Not recommended. Too much plot?
Leane – Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens (See her summary in elective selections.)
Stephanie Laurens’ Devils Bride; Bar Cynster series; bk.1 When Devil Cynster and Honoria Wetherby are caught in a comprising position, he offers her marriage, but the spirited Honoria is not about to conform to conventions and decides that solving a mystery and seeing the world is more to her liking, despite her passionate longing for Devil. Delightful pacing, compelling characters, hot & steamy ST & sex, and an excellent rendering of the Regency period makes this a must-read for historical romance lovers. Spicer than Heyer but one of the better modern writers to capture the Regency period…good descriptions of clothing, parties, and the intrigues of the “ton.” The two headstrong main characters clash making the ST grow and the solving of a murder colors the subplot and makes for an interesting story above and beyond Romance & HEA ending
Proof by Seduction ~ Courtney Milan
This is Milan’s debut historical romance featuring Gareth, Lord Blakely. Gareth is used to getting what he wants and his icy demeanor tends to cause people to scurry around to please him. When he finds that his cousin Ned has been spending his money visiting a fortune teller, he is determined to prove her a fraud. Gareth is a man of science and expects to easily expose her as a charlatan. What Gareth doesn’t expect is that Madame Esmeralda (aka Jenny Keeble) isn’t going down without a fight. She is quick on her feet and though she may not actually be able to tell the future, she knows a good deal about human nature and she sees right through his icy façade. Their battle of wit and will proves to be a prefect attraction.
Appeal Factors: Character, Tone, Storyline Milan creates memorable characters which helps make the romance work. Gareth starts out like your average dark and brooding leading male. He has few friends and he can’t have a conversation with his sister without making her cry. Because of Jenny’s influence he tries not to be so cold and distant. He often fails, but his attempts are both humorous and endearing. Jenny is a great character, because she’s strong and independent. I felt invested in the characters because they were well-developed and you can understand why Gareth is so distant and why Jenny clings to the persona of Madame Esmeralda. Then there is Ned a character who is very loveable but lacks confidence and good sense. He has issues with depression and he seems to be incapable of doing the right thing. Gareth and Jenny’s attempts to get him out of some tough situations help move the story forward.
Seduce Me – Robyn Dehart
Fielding Grey is an antiquities hunter. His father was part of an exclusive club called Solomon’s, a group of gentlemen scholars who each specialize in a particular legend. His father lost his fortune and his life looking for the Templar gold. Fielding was left with a mountain of debts and a family to care for when he was only 17. So, he becomes an antiquities hunter but he doesn’t care for the scholarship and he despises Solomon’s. When the men from the club come to him with a job, he jumps at the chance to take their money and hopefully seek revenge for his father. Just as he’s about to steal Pandora’s box out from under the nose of his evil uncle, he notices that there is a woman chained to the wall. Damnation! Damsels in distress are not his thing.
Appeal factors: characters, storyline, pacing
Fielding is a great male lead, think Indiana Jones, and he finds Esme Worthington particularly attractive even though he doesn’t like to get caught up in relationships. Esme is a scholar who just happens to know a great deal about Pandora’s box. While Fielding is not a scholar and Esme seems to lack common sense, there is a fair amount of sexual tension between the two. Some reader’s might find Esme too annoying. The pace is quick with a little predictable family drama and the adventure is a fun diversion, if you are willing to suspend belief.
Legend by Jude Deveraux.
Kady Long, chef extraordinaire, believes she is about to marry her “dream” man. Her world is turned upside down though, when she purchases an old tin with a wedding dress and earrings hidden inside. When Kady steps into the dress, she unexpectedly finds herself stepping out into 19th century Legend, Colorado and about to witness the hanging of a handsome, rugged man. Arms strong from lifting bags of flour, she picks up a rock and smashes an onlooker on the head, taking his gun and firing it into the air. What a gal. The hangmen run away, and thus starts Kady’s convoluted journey to her real dream man – the mysterious, sad-eyed veiled stranger she’s dreamt about her whole life.
Appeal Factors: Characters (Kady & the handsome, rugged man), setting and for those who like time travel. One disappointment was that her dream man was not that well developed as a character.
Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. In progress
Sassy from the get go, this fun romp in the town of Temptation is full of it. Take one hunk of a mayor, Phineas (Phin) Tucker and one filmmaker, Sophie Dempsey from a family with a dubious past, and you know there is going to be t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair
In For a Penny by Rose Lerner
One thing a disreputable rake does not expect to return home to after a night of carousing with like-minded friends is news of his father’s death in a duel. That, Lord Nevinstoke learns, is like a slap to the face; the debts and resulting destitution left in his father’s wake, on the other hand, are like a punch in the gut. With little else to do, Nev resolves himself to sobriety and marriage, not knowing which will be the worst, and seeks out Miss Penelope Brown, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. It may be a risk to show his hand at the same time that he’s offering it up in marriage, but Nev, certain his honesty will brook a refusal, does just that. And, having sworn off drink, Nev can’t even down a glass of brandy to settle the shock her acceptance provokes. Having access to Penny’s money, however, doesn’t signal the end of Nev’s problems; there’s a family estate gone to seed, a coniviving neighbor, workers on the verge of revolt, and a horny sister to contend with, too. Nev can’t seem to catch a break and when his dreadfully ill ex-mistress shows up, well, it’s just too much. Or so he thinks. As it turns out, Nev learns that there is strength to be found in love, in the partnership of a solid marriage, and that Penny may increase his wealth in more ways than he ever imagined possible.
Appeal: CHARACTERS, PLOT
In For a Penny is a regency era romance novel that is refreshing and sweet. Both Nev and Penny are, for the most part, painfully honest with each other; Nev willingly owns up to his reasons for marrying her, and in return Penny gives him a bulleted list of things he cannot do once they are wed. Whether they knew it or not, they were laying the foundation for a true partnership from the start, and scenes in which they discuss finances or the state of Nev’s land inheritance shine a light on a very real relationship they share. That in itself is highly appealing. As for the sweet: Both are fond of poetry, fiction, and music, and there are several scenes in which one will read or sing to the other. There are several sigh-worthy and “aww” moments to be found here. All in all, a dash of intrigue, smart plotting, and an innocent love story wrap this one into a nice Regency package.
My elective choice is Mine till midnight by Lisa Kleypas. Historical (Regency?) romance, part of the series the Hathaways.
In the Hathaways series (5 so far in the series scheduled through 6/10), the brothers and sisters are baffled by life among the ton into which an unexpected inheritance has tossed them. In this, the first of the series, Cam Rohan, a gypsy skilled in finances, manager of a private gentlemen’s club, and embarrassingly wealthy for one of the people who disparage riches, meets Amelia Hathaway, the eldest sister of the Hathaway siblings. Brother Leo, Lord Ramsay, is missing, presumed lost in debauchery once again. Cam agrees to help find him and so begins his entanglement with the Hathaways and his eventual love for Amelia. The story moves along quickly with just enough mystery and action to provide space between bouts of sexual tension. The characters are well developed, each of the Hathaways are distinct; each of the gypsies romantic and mysterious. The dialogue is bright with plenty of humorous repartee. Each book in the series follows one of the Hathaways, finding their way to love and happiness. The stories are steamy, the characters interesting and likable. The prejudice against the Rom (gypsies) adds interest to the plot and spice to the setting.
Hathaways series: Mine till midnight, Seduce me at sunrise, Tempt me at twilight, Married by morning (5/25/10), Love in the afternoon (6/29/10).
Appeal: characters, pacing, plot.
Flirting With Pete by Barbara Delinsky
Delinsky, a seasoned women’s fiction author, offers intriguing romantic suspense in this family saga. Bostonian Casey Ellis is in her early thirties, happily unmarried, and a successful psychologist. However, her mother has been in a coma for the past three years, and Casey has never officially met her father, renowned psychologist Cornelius (Connie) Unger (although she had followed his career and became a psychologist because of him). When he dies suddenly, Connie leaves Casey his Beacon Hill townhouse, much to Casey’s surprise. While sorting through the house, Casey discovers a manuscript–titled “Flirting with Pete”–that could be a journal, a novel, or a case study of one of her father’s clients. As Casey begins to read through the journal, she is drawn into the story of abused, small-town girl Jenny, who makes plans to run away with her handsome, perfect new boyfriend Pete. The story unfolding in “Flirting With Pete” begins entwining with Casey’s new life on Beacon Hill, not to mention her new relationships with her sexy, mysterious gardener, Jordan, and young, eager-to-please new housekeeper, Meg. Delinsky is a more old-fashioned writer than Susan Elizabeth Phillips; the romance takes a while to heat up, and her story veers toward melodrama in parts. Once the romance gets started, however, true fans of the genre will enjoy the steamy relationship between Casey and Jordan (and between Jenny and Pete). Likewise, women’s fiction fans will enjoy the realistically strong character of Casey, who has quite a lot to do in the novel on her own before any romance gets involved.