I enjoy, but don't write, historical romances. For some weird reason, I particularly enjoy Regency romances, those stories that take place during the late 1700s and early 1800s in England. Lucky for me, it's a popular sub-genre.
Pursuant to my reading habits, I thought I'd begin a column of book reviews. I do read. I read quite a bit, actually. But I don't always find the books I read worthy of comment. This column, posting on Saturday mornings as generated, will speak to the books that really make an impression upon me. The ones that make good impressions will be "Good Eggs" and the ones that don't will be "Rotten Eggs." It fits in with the whole agricultural theme, you know.
My first column entry focuses on A Night Like This by NYT bestselling author Julia Quinn.
Quinn's books always--always--entertain. I've yet to read one I didn't enjoy, although some I like better than others. Ms. Quinn does a wonderful job of translating the restricting mores and social conventions of Regency England for modern understanding. Her heroines, including Anne in this book, never shatter the strictly defined roles imposed upon women at the time, but they often stretch the boundaries of those roles.
Of the aspects I enjoy most about Quinn's work is her wry sense of humor. Just a little sardonic. Just a little absurd. Always understated without the amateurish employment of many exclamation points and slapstick humor. I also chuckle at the running gag of the annual Smythe-Smith musicale which permeates many of her novels.
In A Night Like This, our hero Daniel Smythe-Smith returns home from three years of exile. Of course, he comes home on the night of the infamous musicale: "It was good to be home. Even with the cacophony. Especially with the cacophany. Nothing said 'home' to a Smythe-Smith like the badly played music."
Quinn's storytelling doesn't devolve into minute descriptions of who wore what, nor does it wallow in backstory. In writing that could almost be described as "spare"--much like Dick Francis' or Robert B. Parker's work--she masters the storyteller's art of "showing" even with pages of nonsensical and baffling dialogue that nonetheless manages to make this reader laugh aloud because I can see it happening. Somehow she makes it possible for the reader to keep track of who says what in a conversation that takes place on multiple levels (and topics) at once.
In A Night Light This, our heroine is guilty of youthful bad judgment which leads to her ruin which then leads to a lifetime of servitude. The ruin and its severe consequences play out with authenticity, but without dwelling in unrelenting pathos. We don't pity Anne for her circumstances, we admire her for having made the best of them. Our hero, Daniel, adheres to the trope of being a handsome, wealthy aristocrat. He's a little bit arrogant (goes with that handsome, wealthy aristocratic background), but not a jerk, and not a womanizing jerk. He enjoys his family and doesn't treat women as disposable. He is, actually, the kind of hero you'd like to bring home to meet your family. Daniel, too, has a grievous error in his history that contributes to tension in the story.
Conflict in the story doesn't come from big, splashy catastrophes, but from smaller, personal tragedies. The influence of these tragedies ripples through the story and contribute to the building conflict that form the obstacles keeping our hero and heroine from their happily ever after. Obstacles arise from both protagonists fearing continuing retribution from their enemies and societal restrictions.
For those who wonder, yes, the romance does tiptoe into the metaphorical bedroom (even if a bed isn't actually in the scene). For the most part, explicit content hovers at the sensual level, with some kissing, touching, and some wicked talking and thinking. When it finally happens, "big deed" is tastefully written, not clinical or so descriptive that I could past a test for OB/GYN certification.
Quinn's tactful, humane writing brings the characters to life, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. She treats them as real people so that they come alive. For anyone who enjoy character-driven plots, A Night Like This definitely satisfies.
#JuliaQuinn #BookReview #HenHousePublishing
No, I'm not referring to the movie, excellent though it was. This week's blog challenge prompt asks whether participants have any odd, useless talents. While others may consider me odd, I don't think I have any specific talents that could be so described. Useless? That's another story.
I'm good with words, specifically written words. For years that talent wasn't considered odd so much as useless. After learning my major and then my degree (in English), people asked me, "Are you going to teach?" If teaching English (or language arts as it's now called) wasn't in my career plan, then the consensus was that my particular talent wasn't particularly useful.
I disagree, of course.
I draw better than most, but certainly not well enough to make a living at it. I'm not particularly artistic. I enjoy music, but have no aptitude for playing an instrument or singing. I have no weird physical ability, like double-jointed flexibility. I consider myself smart, but not within the realms of genius. I can't claim clairvoyance or other spiritual/metaphysical/psychic ability.
When you think about, I'm pretty darned average.
So, rather than gripe about how no one understood me and disparaged me, I'll just say that, no, I haven't any odd and useless talents. Actually, I wouldn't say that I have any odd talents, like juggling or knowing the brand of chocolate by its taste. Useless, however, is a matter of perception.
In other news, Bear of the Midnight Sun received another 5-star review. Now that makes my day!
Russian Dawn (Russian Love Book 3)
Latasha clasped her new husband’s hand and looked out over the unusual collection of faces that watched as she and Iosif walked hand-in-hand down the white runner that led through double doors into bright sunshine. She looked up at Iosif, who favored her with one of his rare smiles.
“Happy?” she whispered, unable to repress her own brilliant smile.
“Da, now you are truly mine,” he replied, the deep timbre of his voice rumbling in his chest. Still holding her hand, he raised it and pressed a kiss to the back of her knuckles. Her answering smile confirmed that he’d made the right decision: this sassy woman’s love and trust would redeem his cold, hard soul.
They took their places in the receiving line, followed by Cecily and Pyotr, maid of honor and best man.
“Pyotr looks good, don’t you think?” she asked, glancing at the handsome, blond giant who had married her best friend.
“He recovered well,” Iosif said, darting a sour glance at Cecily who looked like a modern-day Marilyn Monroe in the elegant dress Latasha had picked out for her. Latasha understood his attitude. Cecily’s abrupt departure and abandonment to pursue her own dreams had hurt all of them, none more than Pytor. Pyotr, however, had forgiven her. She wished Iosif could do the same.
Further down the line stood her other best friend Giancarla and her husband Vitaly, who was also a former comrade—no pun intended—of Pyotr’s. She liked the dour man and heartily approved of the tender care he lavished upon Gia. Latasha’s mother and her oldest living brother also stood in the receiving line, accepting congratulations and handshakes from the small crowd of friends of family who had gathered to witness this odd marriage.
Latasha nearly wept when she spied a guest who was as dear, if not dearer, than her own mother.
“Mrs. Tallimar! I’m so glad you could make it,” she cried and wrapped her arms around her former high school algebra teacher, a woman who had done much more than teach math.
Faded blue eyes twinkled, and the old woman’s wrinkles deepened with her smile as she returned Latasha’s hug. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” she said, pressing a kiss to the bride’s cheek. She looked up at Iosif, who maintained a close watch over everything having to do with his bride.
“You take good care of her, you hear me?” the retired teacher demanded. Her eyes glinted with martial force despite the smile.
“Da,” he replied and gave her a curt nod of approval. So, this was the woman who had saved his Latasha.
There's a famous passage in Lewis Carroll's The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland that has Alice speaking with the Cheshire Cat about direction. She wants directions, but doesn't know where she wishes to go, which presents something of a conundrum. In that same manner, embarking upon a marketing campaign without knowing the desired outcome also presents a conundrum.
In a recent conversation with my publicist, we agreed to start paying attention to two important statistics, because it's difficult to proceed with intent if you don't know what's worked and what hasn't. Benchmark data establishes a baseline so that we know where to start and how to proceed.
To be perfectly candid: book sales lately have been dismal. I realize that my publicist cannot compel people to buy books. I cannot compel people to buy books. But what can we do to persuade people that my books are worth reading? That they're worth the purchase price?
We've looked at pricing. In a months-long experiment, we realized that revenues remained pretty stable regardless of the price of the books. Higher prices meant fewer copies sold, but higher royalties earned. Lower prices meant more copies sold, but lower royalties earned. It was a wash. However, that data convinced me that it was in my best interests to stick with the lower prices to widen market penetration and grow readership.
I'll admit to not being sophisticated at marketing. That's why I have a publicist. She's the expert.
Looking ahead, I may flirt with other genres. I doubt I'll ever abandon romance, if only because my books are character-driven and romance fits perfectly into that style of writing. But perhaps I'll branch out into westerns. I don't consider myself clever enough to come up with a mystery (I'm seldom good enough to pick up on clues and figure out the whodunit), so I probably won't veer toward that genre. I've written fantasy and still enjoy it. Perhaps I'll dig myself in more deeply there, heavy on the adventure, light on the romantic elements. I may segue back to mafia romances: those seem to do better than anything else I've written. Who knows?
Regardless of whether something sells, I will keep writing. Consider it a compulsion if you wish, but I cannot and will not stop. This is what I do. This is what I am.
So, what's coming up?
First, let's get into the SEO keywords that help readers find the books they're searching for: alien romance, abduction romance, reverse harem romance, ménage romance. Good start. These keywords will help direct readers who want to read such stories to the book. Likewise, readers who find such material distasteful shouldn't find the title popping up in their searches.
Now, let's figure out a cover blurb. That's always difficult, because summarizing my own work never come easily. I'll give y'all a breakdown. The story begins with the heroine, Ursula, in the final interview for a new job. The hiring manager gives her the heebie-jeebies, but she sticks through it and accepts the job offer. The job begins immediately, as in right this very minute. She's transported not to another country, but to another planet where the natives are desperate for females, to work in the US embassy there as the new event planner. Within days she must attempt to learn enough about the native culture to avoid giving offense and organize a soiree for several hundred guests. She catches the attention of a warrior triad, as has one of her coworkers. The ambassador hands over the coworker to the natives as collateral to close a negotiation. Worried the same fate as a bargaining chip awaits her, Ursula escapes. Of course, "her" warrior triad catches her and--of course, again--keeps her. (We must adhere so some of the tropes of the sub-genre, folks, in order for this work.) Then Ursula's life goes off the rails. She must adapt to her new life, because there ain't no going back. However--and here's the kicker--her overbearing, dominant warriors must adapt and compromise, too, if they want a happy bride.
Yes, I know the description is far too long and rambling. I'll distill it as I go. (If you have any suggestions for writing the blurb, feel free to email them to me. I won't refuse your help.) However, what makes this book distinct and unique compared to other stories in the same sub-genre isn't the heroine's sacrifice of ... well ... everything. That's standard for most romances, regardless of sub-genre. That in this story which pushes the envelope of the sub-genre is the macho heroes realizing and accepting that they must compromise, too.
I hope to release Triple Burn in mid-April, something to anticipate for spring.
This week's blog challenge prompt focuses on the differences between collecting and hoarding. It's my guess that the difference between collecting and hoarding is rather like the difference between erotica and pornography: hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.
The difference may be in the type of thing collected. Like cats. I apparently collect cats. Six live in my house and one in the barn. The barn cat is a "working" cat; she controls the vermin population. Unlike those who hoard cats, I am able to care for those under my roof. No one steps into my house to find feces and dead animals scattered throughout. (Okay, sometimes a cat overshoots the litter box. That gets cleaned up quickly, though.)
I do, of course, wonder why so many people view having cats as aberrant behavior. In the romances I read, especially the "new adult" romances, the young heroines bemoan their loneliness and bitterly complain about becoming one of those crazy cat ladies. Why is having a cat or two so much worse than having a dog or two?
After all, dogs are needy creatures. I know, I've seldom gone for so much as a year without a dog. Currently, I have a big, yellow-bellied coward of a Great Dane. Talk about needy ... zeesh.
The nice thing about cats is that they take you on their terms. They like your or they don't. If they do, then they make delightful companions. Cats provide us with a lot of entertainment. Don't believe me? When's the last time you saw a cat video on social media?
So, collecting means one acquires multiples of the same type of thing: stamps, coins, cats, etc. That naturally sends my mind winging toward the correct names for groups of things. (Yeah, I'm weird that way.) So, we all know from Agatha Christie that a group of crows is called a murder. Collective nouns give rise to some interesting word and image associations. Think of it: a group of hogs is called a drift. There's nothing "drift-like" about swine. They're solid, heavy creatures. One might think of a more suitable term, such as a "bog" or a "squeal" of pigs. Soldiers and peacocks come in musters. There's some justification for that, when one thinks of old fashioned uniforms in their bright, bold colors, fancy braid, and shiny buttons and medals.
But hoarding: that bears a connotation of too much. Too many cats to take care of, too many knickknacks to display properly, too many books for the shelves. I hoard books. Yes, I admit to the vice and I'm not ashamed. Anyone intrepid enough to take a look at my too-be-read pile downloaded to my Kindle will realize that I truly enjoy frivolous reading and that I have enough books to last more a couple of years, even if I read one a day. E-books enable discreet hoarding.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
Looking for a place to swap blogs? Holly Bargo at Hen House Publishing is happy to reciprocate Blog Swaps in 2019.
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