Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Review -- The Devil In Winter

It's time for a new feature here at Damned Scribbling Women, particularly since we've finally managed to attract a few readers other than friends, family and those forced by future conjugal ties to pretend an interest in our writing.

Here it is, the first Friday Review, this time of Lisa Kleypas' The Devil In Winter, out in March.

My introduction to Kleypas (in college) was through her Bow Street Runners series, and I have to say, I wasn't a fan. Maybe it was the romantic suspense-y vibe, but I wasn't all that fond of the characters, didn't love her writing, just didn't get the appeal.

But when she started her new Wallflowers series (and I got the first book free) I decided to give it a try. I loved Secrets of a Summer Night, from the unabashadly mercenary heroine, to the rough and middle-class hero to the delightful group of friends that I knew would form the heroines of the following books (not an Amy March among them). I liked the second book, It Happened One Autumn, the story of brash American heiress Lillian and starchy aristocrat Marcus, even better.

Fortunately, Kleypas' streak holds in this third book in the series. The hero is a familiar type in historical romance, the dissolute rake who thinks he's much worse than he is, but the fact of his having been the villain in the previous book adds interest, and he thankfully doesn't spend too much time wallowing in guilt over his stained past. He also demonstrates a marvelous energy in turning around a decayed gambling club once he gets hold of it that I enjoyed. Not often we see aristocrat heroes doing anything other than thinking about drainage and their tenants and possibly allowing a railway on the property (when not tearing bodices, of course).

The heroine, Evie, is really marvelous. She's painfully shy, with frizzy red hair and a stutter. She's the daughter of a respectable woman and the up-from-the-streets owner of the aforementioned gambling club, and after her mother's death she was brought up by her strict and abusive maternal relatives. She's incredibly appealing: strong-willed and determined without being irritatingly or stupidly pig-headed (as a lot of "modernized" historical heroines can be).

The tone of the book is perfect, just the right mix of light humor, percolating suspense, and inner turmoil. And the series' other characters are used sparingly but well.

In fact, the book's so good it makes me regret that after the last Wallflowers novel, Scandal In Spring, Kleypas will be turning to contemporaries (romantic suspense, I believe, which I find really tedious). Please don't stay away too long, Lisa! We need more decent historicals!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Romance Fans in Unlikely Places

As preparation for an upcoming grad school interview (also known as "attempt to use my wit, wisdom, stawberry-fresh hair and vast appreciation of her corpus of work to charm senior professor into pulling for me with the admissions committee") I've been reading Mary Poovey's book "The Woman Writer and the Proper Lady." It's a really interesting look at Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen and the ways each of them reacted to and against the myth of the "Proper Woman," which developed at the beginning of the nineteenth century and really took root in the Victorian period. I know it sounds dry, but it's fascinating and, hey, this is what I want to go to school for, right?

One of the quirks of my NYPL-issued copy (thank God for the Mid-Manhattan circulating branch) is that at least two, and possibly three of the book's previous readers have provided copious and sometimes entertaining notes in the margins. They include brief summaries of Poovey's major points, ammendments to her arguments and sometimes outright denials (I've seen "NO!" and "I don't think so" written a few times).

But imagine my surprise when, deep in a chapter about prostitution as empowerment in Wollstonecraft's final, unfinished novel Maria, I see the note "See The Bride of the Unicorn, Kasey Michaels."

I read Kasey Michaels! I read the Bride of the Unicorn! A later note about Joan Smith's A Kiss In the Dark sealed the deal.

Romance readers a clever bunch, no?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Rule of Seven

“Medical school suffers from a distinct lack of period costume.”
– Theresa

As a migrant fourth-year medical student, a friend of mine recently found it necessary to sell off her entire romance novel collection. Now she finds herself in possession of a temporary residence and (gasp!) a bit of free time. When last we spoke, she was carting Middlemarch about and looking for a bit of light reading on the side. As Queen of Light Reading, it fell to me to make some recommendations that were a little less Honors Book List…

And so,
Theresa, I place these three lists online in hopes to distract you from classic literature. Note that some of these books are part of a series (For instance, Don’t Tempt Me is the last of a trilogy). These are not listed in any particular order, and the lists are certainly not comprehensive.

Seven Favorite Contemporary Romances:
Bet Me (Jennifer Crusie)*
Charlie All Night (Jennifer Crusie)
Manhunting (Jennifer Crusie)
Don’t Tempt Me (Julie Ortolon)
Body Rush (Deirdre Martin)
The Chesapeake Bay trilogy—can’t just choose one! (Nora Roberts)
Woman Most Likely To… (Jennifer Greene)

*Quite possibly the best romance novel of all time. (Honorable mentions: See Jane Score, by Rachel Gibson, and Dream Man, by Linda Howard.)

Seven Favorite Regency Novels:
So Wild a Heart (Candace Camp)
The Duke (Gaelen Foley)
The Devil You Know (Liz Carlyle)
Something About Emmaline (Elizabeth Boyle)
The Bargain (Mary Jo Putney)
The Viscount Who Loved Me (Julia Quinn)
Educating Caroline (Patricia Cabot)

Seven Favorite Random Historical Novels:
Highland Bride (Hannah Howell)
Amazing Grace (Julie Garwood)
Ransom (Julie Garwood)
By Possession (Madeleine Hunter)
Something Wonderful (Kate Rothwell)
A Vision of Light (Judith Merkle Riley)
In Pursuit of the Green Lion (Judith Merkle Riley)*

*These last two are not precisely romance novels, but they are absolutely marvelous—a funny medieval series, if you can believe it. Read it and fall in love with the pragmatic Margaret and deliciously absurd Gregory.

Anyone else out there have a list of seven, or another reading recommendation for our good friend T?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Romance Novels, Bad and Good (And SBTG)

I received an amazing, belated, one-of-a-kind, straight-from-the-heart sort of Christmas gift on Wednesday, the kind of gift that makes you sit up straighter and say, "I love my life and I love my friends." At first glance, this remarkable present is anything but prepossessing. If you must know, it is an entry in Harlequin's Men From the 50 States series entitled In Good Faith. Appropriately enough, it's set on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

So what makes this book so wonderful? Is it the heroine's charming colleagues, fellow professors at Columbia, who exchange "witty" banter about her spinsterhood and calculate how many cows her various beauty spots would fetch on the marriage mart in Africa? Is it the way the hero's "pelt" of chest hair and penchant for staring at the heroine's crotch cause her breasts to visibly grow larger? Is it the gaggle of old Polish Jews or Christians (they are periodically referred to as both) who plot to bring the hapless pair together?

NO! It is surely the handwritten notes on all of the above in the book's margins courtesy of Kate D and the inimitable Theresa. Thanks for making me feel a part of your Seattle sojourn. Though the fiance was not too pleased with my uproarious laughter last night while he was trying to sleep.

I'm not sure if this book is so bad it's good. It's certainly bad. Would I enjoy it as much if I didn't have my friends' hilariously witty comments to spur me on? Is anything really "so bad it's good" until we share it with like-minded critics?

And, to conclude, a recommendation for an excellent novel that, while it wouldn't meet with the RWA's ten point description of the essence of the romance genre, contains one of the most beautiful love stories I've read in years. Ian McEwan's Atonement. Read it. Cry. Read that last chapter again. Cry again. You get the idea.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Engagements in the Air

My friend Tammy came home from medical school sporting a dazed expression and a big ol' diamond on her finger. The diamond stayed on her finger, but the dazed expression quickly became my own.

You have to understand that I've known Tammy since I was twelve. In high school, we were both major theater geeks. Along with our friend Kizzy, we spent every weekend discussing (what we thought were) major life issues over a cup of diner coffee, or dissecting our crushes' behavior while sitting on Tammy's kitchen floor, snacking on kimche and Top Ramen. Now one of our own is getting married, and I somehow find it hard to believe that we aren't still stressing out over potential prom dates.

I must thank Tammy's fiance for timing the deed right before I picked her up from the airport. This enabled us to do a grown-up version of all of our favorite activities from high school. Instead of dissecting crush behavior, we discussed the proposal. Instead of shopping for formal dance wear, we went out for wedding gowns. My mom drove us, as she often would in the old days, and at David's Bridal who should show up, but our other best friend's sister! She was the gown consultant, and we all (Mom included) had quite the giggle-fit as Tammy traipsed about in beaded satin and argyle socks.

So, I am feeling a strange cocktail of emotions: happiness for my friend, nostalgia for the old days, shocked that said "old days" are actually old and actually over, and faintly curious about what this whole adulthood thing might hold for me...

If only I could faithfully portray such nuance of feeling in my novel!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Resolutions Part 1

Kate D has womanfully womanned this ship while I've been off getting engaged and travelling to Mexico. But now I'm back and it's high time I gave her a break.

So, 2006 is upon us. For starters, a quip recap of 2005:

- Finished draft 1 of the Wedding Widow
- Made first collage of Wedding Widow
- Began revisions on Wedding Widow
- Abandoned revisions of Wedding Widow to work on graduate school applications
- Last but not least, co-wrote about 6 months worth of Damned Scribbling Women

So, for 2006, I henceforth commit to the following courses of action:

- Will finish the Wedding Widow and submit to publishers
- Will write short Young Adult novel
- Will begin second in Merry Widows series
- Will not allow actually attending grad school to derail writing in the way applying did
- Will not allow planning a wedding to derail writing...much
- Will not insert fiance into all future novels...though that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing
- Will be much better blogging partner for the marvelous Kate D.

As far as more specific writing aspirations go, I will try to go cold turkey from my addiction to adjectives, never use a romance trope without searching for a twist on it, and will incorporate Clydesdales into every book I write in honor of Kate D.

Oh yeah, and I'll exercise more.

So...too ambitious?

On to you, Kate.