laurielikesbooks.blog-city.com — August 2002
The Start of Something New
Today Meg Cabot sent my daughter All-American Girl and Nicola and the Viscount. Both are YA novels/romances, and I plan to read both after having thoroughly enjoyed Princess in Love, which AAR Reviewer Rachel Potter granted Desert Isle Keeper status.The great thing about Meg Cabot's contemporary voice is that it's so strong you can "hear" the first person narrative in your head, as though Mia, the heroine of her Princess series, is speaking out loud.
I seem to be on quite a YA glom; not long ago I read Caroline Cooney's Janie series of books because my daughter read the first one for a book report. The Face on the Milk Carton was quite good, although I was surprised to have read such mature themes in a book for 10 year olds.Â My grade for it was a B+. The second book in the series, also good, is Whatever Happened to Janie, which I also graded B+. I didn't enjoy the third book, The Voice on the Radio, nearly so well; it only earned a C from me. That said, however, the final book in the series, What Janie Found, was very good (another B+!), and perhaps the most disturbing of the series. My daughter read the first two books in the series before going to camp; she could easily skip the third, but I told her I'd like her to be a bit older before reading the fourth.
I find that there are many YA books that I enjoy; they're not only enjoyable in and of themselves, but are a good way to talk about things w/preadolescent (and hopefully adolescent!) kids.
That's all for now...I'm off to read Nicola and the Viscount.
Oh - one more thing, any of you looking for a great anthology novella can't go wrong with Donna Simpson'sÂ Love Lessons from the anthology My Dashing Groom, which was published by Zebra in June.Â Shannon Donnelly has a good story in the anthology as well, Border Bride, even if the hero and heroine are riding horses 100 miles a day on English country roads during the Regency. Simpson is an extremely talented Regency Romance author, and Donnelly is also pretty good.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
The Learning Curve
All I can do is continue to do the work... to final-edit reviews and post them, to continue our contests and polls, to continue to write At the Back Fence with Robin and Anne, and hope this year's slump is simply a month earlier than it used to be.
Okay, it really is time for bed now, so I'm signing off. Tomorrow while my daughter is in jazz class, I'll get back to Nicola and the Viscount.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
DIK's and Favorites
What's funny is that at AAR, I made sure that all reviews that aren't DIK's include some sort of criticism, because after all, the books aren't perfect or they would be DIK's. I'm not sure when I made that decision in my mind; it must have been close to the end of my time w/TRR.
I talked to Robin about this and she said she was "fascinated" reading my old reviews, precisely for the reasons I mentioned above, and because she said it was interesting to see my style develop. In a way, not reviewing online anymore is probably a very good thing for me beyond the entire "separation of duties" things that required my stopping in the first place. It's tough trying to maintain any type of "working relationship" with authors in general given some of the bad reviews we've posted and some of the commentary I've written. At times I wonder whether we'll continue to get authors willing to be interviewed by us, but I know lots of authors "get" us and realize we do more for reading than other venues that seem afraid to show that sometimes the emperor isn't wearing any clothes. I really respect those authors who have gotten both good and bad reviews from us yet are still able to maintain their professional dignity and accept that someone has the right not only to dislike a book, but to say they disliked it. erhaps even more intriguing are those authors who almost always get bad reviews yet continue to send us their books.
I hope to finish uploading the remainder of my old TRR Reviews in the next few weeks, and then will work them into the AAR Reviews Archive.
One last thing - I really hope we can finish out our last round of polling for Favorite Books for Favorite Authors on an up note by having lots of people vote. Fewer people participated in the last round, but I hope we can get more ballots this time; I think we are finally finishing it just as people have petered our on it. Voting ends at midnight, September 10th.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
A Variety of Musings
Speaking of Bertrice Small, I'm glad AAR Reviewer Heidi Haglin likes some of her books. I've discovered that Heidi really enjoys books in the "old romance" style, those books with "saga" written all over them, those books featuring unique prose stylings. Our complement of reviewers is better with Heidi, and with newer reviewers like Sandy and Megan, who have "upper end" tastes; hey, we'll do anything to save the traditional Regency Romance.
Now on to something entirely different. Our family has become hooked on American Idol. When we flew to California earlier this month to visit my family, our plane left at the ungodly hour of 7 in the morning, which means we had to be at the airport by 5:30, which also means the Admiral's Club was closed and we had to sit with the great unwashed, although at 5:30 in the morning we were part of the great unwashed.
We had just sat down and I started to read the Entertainment Weekly that had arrived at the house the day before when a young woman boldly proclaimed, "Do you see Kelly on the cover? She's my best friend, and here next to me is her mom!" I let her read the magazine article since it was not yet for sale and she showed me the pictures she was taking to share with producers of the show. My husband, daughter, and I met Kelly's mom, cousin, and two best friends and saw pictures of her growing up, singing at school, singing at Six Flags, perhaps even singing at the Ramada Inn. We left the airport with an almost intimate knowledge of Kelly.
Though we'd been "Kelly fans" for a few weeks already, this meeting cemented things. It's Kelly all the way. People who I've told this story are invariably impressed for some reason, and now it's not enough that we watch the show...we now have to vote for "our Kelly." We voted for Kelly again this week but were shocked when Tamyra lost. The expressions on the judges' faces mirrored our own. I had liked Justin for a few weeks but soon discovered if you close your eyes while he sings, he somehow doesn't sound as good. It seems certain now that Kelly will win, but the rumors we've heard about computer programs dialing in millions of votes has sullied my American Idol experience.
Even so, it's hard to imagine the winner will really become a long-term star. Sam Harris may sing the best rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, but he's hardly a household name, and I'm pretty sure O-Town is no more than a memory. I think the best that can come of all this is that producers "discover" Tamyra and Kelly.
Back to romance to end this entry...I'm about half through Jayne Ann Krentz' The Wedding Night, one of those MIRA reprints of an earlier series title. This one was originally written in 1991 but has an earlier feel. Krentz really seems to like writing artistic heroines who are perceived to be naive and unschooled in any and all knowledge of business because this is how the heroine in this book is seen, and the heroine in the last book I read by her - The Ties that Bind - is seen (I read that one last week). That heroine really was a flake about business; I haven't read enough of this one to know if Angie is as well. The Ties that Bind was published in the mid-80's; it's surprising The Wedding Night wasn't written years earlier as well. We won't even get into the similarities of so many of her series romance heroes....
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
For some reason, gathering up a pile of books I've read, entering their grades, status (keep if B- or greater/trade if C+ or lower), and the year read before putting the book in its place either in my library or the "trade" box really gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I think it may in some way remind of me finishing tasks on my "to-do" lists when I had a real job. I don't know that that's the case, but it's a plausible explanation. Either way, I realize I'm totally anal about the whole thing and don't care a whit. What is even more puzzling is that I am totally anal and obsessive about caring for my books when mail could be piled up in the kitchen for weeks and paperwork unsorted for just as long. I think I need some sort of 12-step program: Hello, my name is Laurie, and I'm a nut.
I also got three AAR Bookbags processed and ready to mail out tomorrow. I still haven't decided whether the decision to do bookbags was a good one. We're "in the black," but they're a lot of trouble and not as many people have ordered them as I would have liked. One good thing about them, though, is that I try to be conscientious about mailing them out fairly soon after I receive payment for them, which means I tend to process other mail sooner than I would ordinarily. I'm sure the bill collectors appreciate that.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
American Gods and Grand Avenue
Once at this point, however, I couldn't put the book down. All the twists and turns in plotting, characters who turned out to be other than who I thought they were, death, torture, irony, and a literary Spanish Prisoner con made the last two hundred pages quite interesting, but having to literally slog through 400 previous pages was something I hadn't counted on with Gaiman, whom I've read before.
He can surely write explosively and with a variety of prose styles, but I think the whole "run-down" aspect of the "gods" is what my real issue with the book turned out to be. I knew the gods were on the down and out going in to the book, but I expected more famous gods than the ones I read about. In the end, that was my real problem with American Gods.
The other book that proved somewhat disappointing was Joy Fielding's Grand Avenue. I realize it would be foolish to expect any other book by this author to live up to her achievement in The First Time, which I granted DIK status a couple of years ago, but Grand Avenue was too much in that traditional "four women friends" mode that too much women's fiction relies on these days.
Since reading The First Time, I read several of Fielding's earlier suspense novels. A couple were pretty good, but some were just okay, which meant I didn't go into Grand Avenue with overly high expectations. Grand Avenue, newly out in paperback (the hardcover was published last year) is women's fiction with ominous undertones. It was an easy, quick read - I managed the more than 500 page book in an airport and airplane ride between Los Angeles and Dallas - but it did not leave me satisfied. I didn't mind that many of the lead characters were morally ambiguous at times because that can make them seem like real people, but there was too much creepy behavior going around to make most of them realistic. And other than showing how early promise can turn into personal horror, I don't know what message the author had in mind. On the other hand, since Fielding is adept at writing psychologically based thrillers, the creepy undertones were something many other women's fiction authors couldn't manage.
It's tough to read books by authors who are capable of writing great books because in the back of my mind, even though I try to push it out, other books are judged by impossible standards. In Gaiman's case, I'd read good books by him before and in Fielding's case, some okay, some good, and one so good it was sublime. As a reading junkie, I'm always looking for the next "fix," the next great book. Luckily enough, in between reading these two books, I read one such book...but I'm not ready to talk about it yet, although I did mention it briefly on one of our message boards earlier this summer. Stay tuned.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Bizarre Online Behavior
About a week ago a man started a thread on our Reviews Message Board entitled "your reveiws are just juvinile." Forgetting the spelling errors, which caused many readers to take him to task, his post was really about our grading system and that since we're no longer in grade school, why the grades?
Many readers did respond, and then late, late Friday night the gentleman came back and responded to each and every post. It was redundant and rather odd considering that many of his responses included text that made him sound more like a pirate at Disney World than the husband of an author, which is who he turned out to be - "ARR Arrr Arr Arr."
When I read his post about being the husband of an author, I posted that I'd prefer the thread to be ended for one and all and for him to email me privately if he had further comments to make. I won't bore you with more of the details, but I did explain our grading system, talked a bit about the grades his wife had received, and mentioned that it really wasn't kosher for him not to let us know his relationship to the author for a full week.
He did email me privately; I haven't responded as yet because I'm not sure what to say, but nobody else heeded my request to end the discussion. No, we had some people who said they won't buy the author's books any more, some people who refused to believe it was the author's husband at all and just some loon out to embarrass her, a reader asking me to delete the entire thread to prevent the author from further embarrassment because of her husband, and a post from someone who thought it was sweet that a husband would do this for his wife.
We also heard from another author with the same publisher who has only received good reviews at AAR but likes to pop in occasionally when there are negative threads about an author even though she swears up, down, and sideways that she'll never darken our door again - she finds us so morally reprehensible that she removed a link to us from her site. Even though to this point there was only one post by an AAR person - mine - this author seemed to feel AAR staffers were attacking not only the author but her husband.
Can I say that, in my view, some of the posts had an orchestrated quality about them? If the author herself had written me to request I delete the thread, I would have done so in a moment, but to do so without her request would be censoring the board, which I don't like to do. Here's what I think happened based on his email to me and my observations thereafter:
The author's husband was culling the Internet looking for mentions of his wife to add to the web site he's built for her (and here's a word to the wise on that: building a web site that requires users to have a "passport" to visit and that don't even show up on a Google search because they're buried in MSN is probably not the best way to promote an author) and discovered our reviews. Two were positive and several were not. As any husband might be insulted by a slight to their wife, he posted about it, but wasn't totally honest in doing so (okay, so most husbands would be insulted but would probably not do what he did - I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt - "ARR Arrr Arr Arr"). He came back a week later and responded to each and every response to his original post, and shortly thereafter, word got back to some in the writing community - and/or the author herself - that the author's husband was making her look bad.
The smart (and brave) move at this point would have been for the author to contact me and ask me to delete the thread, which I had already told staff I'd do yesterday if she contacted me. But instead of doing that, the decision was made - either with or without the author's knowledge - to "circle the wagons" behind the author, which is why I believe that other author and some of her fans posted.
I've now made another request that people just leave it alone. In that request I also wrote that I would never not buy a book based on anyone's behavior unless it affected me personally and that I would probably read another book by the author if it sounded good. What I didn't say "officially" at AAR was that it was bad enough for her husband to have done this, but that the damage control has been as "juvinile" as our grading system is purported to be. This whole thing could have gone away yesterday if the author had simply emailed me and requested it. Instead, many readers who may never have read her in the past will have a sour taste in their mouth whenever they encounter one of her books at the bookstore.
I haven't "named names" in this entry because I try not to humiliate authors when there's been a mis-step like this, and though I realize it won't be hard for anyone to find the thread(s) in question at this point, in a few weeks the thread(s) will be archived and deleted from the message board and stored only on my computer.
The moral of this story from my perspective is this: women, watch your husbands! And secondly, the fastest route from Point A to Point B is a direct line; circling the wagons never seems to work.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Teach Your Children Well
Reading Mary's post about my concern over my daughter's reading yesterday cracked me up because on Saturday a very funny thing happened in our house. As a parent I'm pretty strict about things I consider age-appropriate - no leather mini-skirts for first graders, no tummy-baring mini t-shirts for jazz class for 10 year olds, PG-13 movies usually okay but not always and "don't talk to me about R-rated movies until you're at least 13," which was the age I was when I saw my first R-rated movie - The Godfather. But even though I'm strict, I'm not conservative; I just have a sense that kids need to be kids and not miniature teenagers before it's time. As a result, she's allowed to pick any book from the library to read, and for the most part, most magazines are okay too...as long as I peruse articles in magazines like Cosmo Girl first.
There are some really bad movies out there that I love - they're not in They Stole Hitler's Brain territory, but I've seen them over and over on UHF stations. Last week I bought used copies of two of these movies, both rated PG-13, on E-Bay. One was She, a 1985 movie I actually once mentioned in an ATBF column. The other was 1987's Cherry 2000, starring Melanie Griffith. The movies arrived late last week and since we were having a "mom-designated sloth day" Saturday, I let my daughter choose one of these two movies to watch, letting her know up front they were very weird and so bad they were good. She chose Cherry 2000.
Having never actually seen Cherry 2000 in all its un-cut glory, I was unprepared for a few scenes that I'd never seen before (it was even more violent than I'd remembered), and when my husband wandered in - and believe me, he thinks my tastes in movies and books are extremely odd at times, and who could blame him? - he was just in time to hear this bon mot come rolling off the tongue of a character in the movie: "Sh_t in a hat."
I couldn't help myself and burst out laughing...and so did my daughter. My husband smiled, but gave me one of his "I can't believe I married a kook" looks. We continued to watch the movie, and when it was over and our daughter had left the room, he looked at me again with the devil in his eyes and said, "If we get a call from the new school about her telling someone to "sh_t in a hat," it's your fault.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
When Authors Hit Their Stride
Of all her books that I've read, Come Lie With Me is the weakest. I don't think it relates to the storyline itself of a physical therapist hired to help a man walk again after an accident; I think it's because Howards' heroes can't be helpless for that long (at least physically). Yes, the hero in White Lies is also in horrendous shape initially, but it doesn't take long for the alpha-to-the-max hero to assert himself.
As for Sarah's Child and Tears of the Renegade, it took me a long time to sort out my feelings on the former; people seem to love it or hate it based on the hero's behavior. Whenever I have a strong visceral reaction to a book, as I did with Sarah, it tends to bump my grade up, and I had to sort out in my mind how much of a bastard Rome Matthews was to Sarah Harper. Though in real life I'd have no patience w/Rome, I must say that part of my emotional response to the book came out of Rome's being a prick. As a result, the book ended up being a B- for me, not the DIK my friend (and bookstore owner) Delores thought it was, nor the D AAR Reviewer Marianne Stillings thought it was, but a B-, which is a qualified recommendation from me.
Tears of the Renegade didn't fare as well; I gave it the same C+ I gave Come Lie With Me. I think had I not known who the author was, I'd have thought it was Elizabeth Lowell rather than Linda Howard. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it did have the same over-blown qualities I've seen in some of Lowell's series releases. Both write a particular kind of hero in their series books, but Lowell's remain bastards for longer than Howards' do, and Howards' heroes aren't always the same kind of bastard, if that makes sense (she's even written some that aren't bastards, but they're still so masculine you can practically see testosterone venting from their bodies, and therefore "cocksure" in the truest sense of the word).
For instance, the hero in Almost Forever, the sequel to Sarah's Child, begins a relationship with a woman in order to get business information from her and when she discovers the truth after they've become intimate, it takes considerable effort on his part to win her back. Max Conroy is no Rome Matthews; he doesn't treat Claire Westbrook with overt cruelty, but he does lie to her...and use her for his company's benefit. Her devastation is no less complete in her mind than what readers feel about what Rome does to Sarah, but to be honest, there's really no comparison. My grade for Almost Forever is a B; it would actually have been higher but for one thing that bothered the hell out of me - the book was published in 1986 when women had already been liberated past the secretarial pool, yet much is made of Claire's "career" as a secretary.
After 1985, Howard's series titles hit their stride; I've read none so far that I graded lower than a B-. Her heroes seem to suck all the air out of the room with their want of the heroines, something I find unique to Howard. Her heroines often have a quiet dignity that becomes poignant near the end of the book; this is something both Howard and Lowell manage quite well, even if their heroines lose weight and become fragile (why can't a heroine ever go on an eating binge when she's devastated rather than losing her appetite?). Of all the authors who have come to the end of their series careers, it's Howard I'll miss the most.
Some readers might say that the hero in Tears is no more of a prick than the hero in Duncan's Bride, who also needed to be hit upside the head fairly late in the story before he realized he was wrong in his treatment of the heroine. Still, for me the former is "Lowell-like" while the latter is not and I think that has to do with the heroines in both books. The heroine in Duncan's Bride fights back, and though I find the mail-order bride scenario unbelievable in contemporary settings, Duncan comes thisclose to DIK status for me. Maddie learns to give as good as she gets from Reese Duncan, and each time she asserts herself, the book gets more intense, sexier, and better. Duncan's Bride, btw, was published in 1990. It's my favorite by Linda Howard.
You can see development of other authors as you look at their backlists. I've said before that some romance authors really peak with their first book and it's downhill from there. I think that's because so many are expected to crank out one or two (or more) books per year; authors of non-genre fiction don't seem to have to do that, and because of the time, their books often get better. That said, while some romance authors really only had one or two good books in them, others clearly get better over time, as their talent develops.
Julie Garwood comes to mind first, although since I read her backlist backwards, it's hard to say. But Julia Quinn has definitely gotten better, and I say this even though I gave her first book - Splendid, published in 1995, DIK status. By 1999, and How to Marry a Marquis, along with her anthology contribution to Scottish Brides she'd clearly hit her stride. And then there's Nora Roberts. Her first book - Irish Thoroughbred is such a stereotype-filled book that it's hard to believe she wrote it...and yet, it was her first book, published in 1981. Its sequel, Irish Rose, was written many years later, in 1988, and yet I can't say I liked it much better. I really can't say that because I wasn't able to finish it.
On the other hand, I'm currently reading a reissue of Second Nature, first published in 1986, and last month read three of our four Cordinia books, the first of which was originally published in 1986 as well. She'd clearly hit her stride by then; while none is a favorite book, two of the three Cordinia books I've finished so far were in the B range for me. I'm not finished with Second Nature yet, but it's good (the hero, who is a famous horror novelist had an earlier career - and female pseudonym - as a romance novelist!) and it's in a two-in-one volume with One Summer, which I'll probably read next.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Why I Love Simon
But then they started ragging on Simon and how rude he was last night when he:
- Actually answered the question put to him about who he thought would be voted off while Randy and Paula gave the "nice" answer that didn't answer the question at all; and
- Told Kelly how phenomenal she was last night while he was giving Nikki some final words, which included him - very nicely, I thought - telling her that she finishing 3rd out of 10,000 is something she should be extremely proud about.
So again I must ask...what the hell is wrong with people? Simon Cowell is the only honest person on American Idol, even if what he's doing is for show. I had no interest in hearing Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul be diplomatic during the interminable hour it took to announce the finalists last night. Randy, Randy, Randy - what a name dropper! And Paula Abdul has no credibility whatsoever. She would probably tell Anna Nicole Smith how great it is that she's taught her dog that cute stuffed-bear humping trick - and, btw, is Anna Nicole's lawyer a total creep or what? I had no idea that reading Henry Miller's sex scenes on the way to the dentist was the preferred method for keeping your mind off the pain. But I digress....
Do people really prefer "nice" over honesty? Maybe it's true that Simon doesn't have to be as brutal as he is, but I think it's more interesting than the pablum served up by Paula Abdul. Would America really be watching American Idol if the judges were Paula, Randy, and the Dunk Man?
I like to think that AAR is the online romance novel world's equivalent to Simon, although we're not nearly as sardonic or harsh in our assessments. Can you imagine what would happen if we included in a review: "Author X - you have no business being published in the same month as Madeline Hunter or J.D. Robb. You are a talentless hack and your publisher should be sued for humilating you in this manner."? I'm going to try and remember Simon the next time we're told how mean we are. I wonder...does he go up to women on the street and tell them they have ugly babies?
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books