Issue #108 (January 1, 2001)

My Year in Romance (by LLB):
When I look back over each year of romance reading, the results are always unique. When I first discovered romance, rather than venturing out to try a whole slew of new authors, I stuck with the first few I had discovered and read through part (or all) of their backlists. This turned out rather well, since I was lucky with many of my first selections. After that first year of "getting up to speed," however, I focused on mostly newer books, although I did start to collect backlists of authors I fell in love with, but only read them bit by bit, so as not to suffer glomming burnout.

2000 was the first year in six when I read (just slightly) more romances published in earlier years (41) than I did current year romances (40). I can't say it was a very successful venture, because, overall, I had more luck with Y2K romances than I did with those earlier ones, probably because a great many of those earlier books tended to be series titles. I read a lot of them these days, even though they are often nothing special. Is it just me, or is an average series title easier to read than an average full-length book? I did work my way through much of Patricia Oliver's Regency Romance backlist this year, and I'm very glad I did!

I was able to add a few new series authors to my fairly selective list of series authors to read - long-time series readers will find nothing new in these names, but straglers like me might want to expand their horizons and include Sharon Sala, Justine Davis, and Marilyn Pappano (I'd begun reading her single title contemporaries in 1999). These authors tend to be of the comfort read variety for me. Carly Phillips, Jennifer Greene, and Gina Wilkins also made an impact on me; they might join my list in the future.

I'd like to briefly mention Zebra's Bouquet line, which I hear is in danger of being cancelled. Jacquie D'Alessandro's Kiss the Cook and Maddie James' Falling for Grace were both good reads; while the former author has also had books published by other publishers, I think all of James' titles have been published by Zebra. If the other Bouquet title by her I found is as good as Falling for Grace, I might even break down and buy her Precious Gems titles! Sadly, the Marcia Evanick titles I tried in the Bouquet line did not work, although I've now found three of six of her earlier Loveswept titles to be pretty entertaining.

I truly loved only three books all year - the first was Anne Stuart's To Love a Dark Lord, published in 1994. The second was Jillian Hunter's Indiscretion, published this past spring. The third was Joy Fielding's The First Time, a fall release, and a non-romance title.

Several fiction titles besides the Joy Fielding deserve mention for this past year: Susan Wilson's Hawke's Cove; Jody Picault's Plain Truth; Patricia Gaffney's Circle of Three; Ruth Wind's (aka Barbara Samuel) In the Midnight Rain; and Christy Yorke's The Wishing Garden. None of these titles received the publicity of Donald Antrim's The Verificationist; I thought each was a far better read.

I thoroughly enjoyed a substantial number of romances in 2000. Madeline Hunter made an impact on everyone I know who tried any of her medieval trilogy; I came away from By Possession excited in a way few medievals that are not romps have left me. Lorraine Heath's historical western Never Love a Cowboy was terrific; it earned DIK status from another of our reviewers. Susan Grant's debut novel, which I actually read in 1999, and its follow-up (The Star King), were both exciting; since I'm not a big reader of either time travel or futuristic romance, the fact that I enjoyed both these titles also thrilled me. Catherine Coulter's The Courtship (I know I'm in the minority on that one), Susan Krinard's Once a Wolf, and Christina Dodd's Rules of Surrender were enjoyable and worth mention as well.

It was more than a year ago that I first mentioned both The Courtship and Gaelen Foley's Prince Charming; Foley's book remains one of the best of the dark romances I read with a Y2K pub date. And while I didn't enjoy Deborah Simmons' The Gentleman Thief as much as my ATBF co-columnist did - Robin granted it DIK status - it came quite close. Though it faltered for me just before the end, this regency-set historical cements it for me: Deborah Simmons is the biggest buried treasure I know.

I continue not to particularly care for romantic suspense, and yet two of my recommended reads from 2000 were Andrea Kane's Run for Your Life, and to a slightly lesser extent, Vicki Hinze's All Due Respect.

My success with e-books remains practically non-existent. I reviewed four e-books for the magazine I write for in 2000; the best was Karin Huxman's ultimately average Entangled. Here's what I wrote my editor to accompany my review: "Of all the e-books I've read, this one isn't the worst. How's that for a recommendation? It actually showed some promise, and had there been a decent editor working with the author, I think it could have been a fairly good read." My grades for the other three titles ranged from C- to F.

Among the superbly horrible romances I read this year were Catherine Lanigan's California Moon, now tied as the worst romance I have ever read, Joan Johnston's The Cowboy (surprising since I've enjoyed her in the past),and Cait London's It Happened at Midnight. My biggest disappointments for the year were Dara Joy's High Intensity and Mary Jo Putney's The Burning Point.

Who is missing from this year's list of especially recommended reads? For me it was Nora Roberts. I did enjoy two of her series titles (Enchanted and Night Shield) a great deal, but for the first time in many years, there's no Nora Roberts DIK on my list.

I'm always glad that the magazine I review for sends arcs far in advance; having a jump start by a couple of months invariably gives me something to look forward to in each new year. I've already read five 2001 titles and each was good, earning some level of B from me. My early 2001 recommendations are:

Here's hoping that 2001 proves a better year for romance reading for me than did 2000!

Read any good books lately? (by Robin Uncapher)
Last year I sat down and wrote my first column for At the Back Fence. It was called 1999 Buried Treasures, and I was simply a guest columnist at the time. I wrote that column after noticing that, even though people on line talk more about midlist authors than most readers, many of the top picks in AAR's yearly reader polls went to best selling “blockbuster” authors. I wrote the column to highlight some of the great books that readers might not have heard too much about.

I also wrote the column to talk about the reading experiences of some of the other AAR reviewers. So often a reviewer comes across one or two books by midlist or brand-new authors that make a big impression. When this happens the reviewer is excited. She writes a glowing review, thrilled that she can tell people about this great new writer. Then she waits excitedly to hear the comments of other readers. And - drum roll here - nothing happens. It's nobody’s fault, of course, but it is a wonderful excuse for us to do this column and talk about our favorites.

So this column is something of an indulgence. It's the last shot that many of us have to tell you about our reading in the year 2000 and some terrific, lesser-known, books. Later, on the Message Board, we hope that you'll tell us about how you saw the year 2000 and also tell us about the lesser-known books, by midlist authors, that you think deserve consideration in our annual reader poll.

When I started asking myself what buried treasures I had read, I found myself reflecting on this past year's reading experience. It was an interesting year for me, my second "full" year reading romance. I read fewer books this year, mainly because career and family made it impossible to match the number of books I had read the previous year. While in 1999 I read 124 books, in the year 2000 I read 82, not many for a romance book addict but still more volumes than I ever read when I was reading general nonfiction and literary fiction.

My record keeping for the year 2000 is also inferior to my 1999 system. Sometime in July, computer problem killed my year 2000 listing of what I read. Having spent some time reconstructing, however, it appears that about 80% of the books I read were single titles and of those, half were contemporaries and half historicals. The vast majority of the historicals were set in the regency period but I did read a few American Historicals and a few European Historicals set both prior to and after the Regency. The remainder were fairly evenly split between Regency Romances and series titles.

Some of my most enjoyable reading was spent discovering authors and reading their backlists. I was still pretty new to the genre when the year began and it was fun to read Linda Howard and see what all the fuss was about. I read Dream Man but my favorites were her two series romances the much collected Mackenzie's Mountain and Duncan’s Bride. I liked Linda Howard’s books but I didn’t love them. Ruth Wind’s books on the other hand, had a really strong effect. I thanked heaven and AAR Editor Ellen Micheletti for introducing me to this talented author and have since glommed some of her series books. My three favorites by her are my three favorite series romances to date - Reckless, Her Ideal Man and Jezebel’s Blues.

Then, right when I thought I’d made my last big investment in old books, I ran smack into Suzanne Brockmann. I always say that I’m not much of a series reader but I loved Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall Dark and Dangerous mini-series. I read every one I could get my hands on starting with Get Lucky, a very good book which sports what possibly is the ugliest romance-novel cover in history. I liked Identity Unknown, even though I’m not much on amnesia stories, and I enjoyed two of her single titles, Bodyguard and The Unsung Hero.

I read some good historicals this year but had only a few that I really loved. The first was Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden, a Victorian-era historical with an incredibly tortured hero. I loved this book for a lot of reasons, but what I remember most is the tight focus on a hero and heroine who spent a great deal of time together. I also greatly enjoyed Lisa Kleypas’s Where Dreams Begin, a story about a widow not over her grief, and Madeliene Hunter’s By Arrangement. By Arrangement is the first medieval I've read in years that has a real period feel about it.

A historical that was a lot of fun, though it had very little period feeling, was Danelle Harmon’s The Defiant One. I find Danelle Harmon’s books to be absolutely delightful. The Defiant One featured a scientist hero and an animal-lover heroine, neither of whom ever fit into their surroundings - I loved them both. Another book that really worked for me was Jo Beverley’s Devilish. I found Rothgar to be quite irresistible and the book memorable.

Two very buried treasures for me were Andrea Pickens' Regency Romance The Major’s Mistake, the story of a divorced couple, and Anita Wall’s A Promise Given, a romance between a young woman who has been abused by her stepfather and a Basque sheepherder who is promised in marriage to a woman whom he has never met. A Promise Given is a book that seemed to be somewhat ignored by everyone but it deserves a read. Both these books earned B+'s from me.

My luck with new books in the year 2000 did not match my luck in 1999. I granted "official" DIK status to only one Y2K book, Deborah Simmons' The Gentleman Thief. I also granted DIK status to a reprint - Karen Monk’s Surrender to a Stranger. This is not because I didn’t read great new books but that when I did read them, someone else had already reviewed them. Had I been reviewing Ruth Wind’s In the Midnight Rain, Suzanne Brockman’s Unsung Hero, Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth, Lisa Kleypas’s Where Dreams Begin and Madeleine Hunter’s By Arrangement, I would have given them DIK status.

What didn’t work? Well there were lots of C's of course, but my personal prize for worst of the year would have to go to Kathleen Woodiwiss' A Season Beyond a Kiss. There are not many books I would classify as “unreadable”. A Season Beyond a Kiss was a book that I slogged through out of sheer duty.

Were there any personal disappointments? Dara Joy’s High Intensity was a book that broke my heart. I loved the original High Energy but High Intensity seemed like a book that didn’t know what it wanted to be, mystery/suspense or romance. Some writers combine the two well, but in this case the hero and heroine, carried over from the original book, seemed to have lost their chemistry along the way. This was a heartbreaker.

I asked some of my fellow AAR reviewers about their thoughts on the year and for a list of the books that they consider to be “buried treasures.” Perhaps it make sense here to explain what I mean when I talk about books that are buried treasures.

When I talk about buried treasures, I am talking about individual books that are not written by blockbuster authors. By this definition I personally think that Ruth Wind's In the Midnight Rain can be called a buried treasure. Yes, Ruth Wind is known in the romance community, but she is still an author many people need to learn about.

Suzanne Brockmann’s books are even more problematic. Brockmann has become widely known within the romance community and her books are eagerly awaited by many of us. At last summer’s RWA Convention she carried off two well-deserved RITA's. So one could not say that Get Lucky, for example, was a book by an unknown author. But ask the average romance reader who is not online who Suzanne Brockmann is and you may get a puzzled look. Mention Diana Palmer or Cassie Edwards and there will be a light of recognition.

This is the time of year when many of us try to squeeze in a few more current books to make sure we are voting for the best that the year had to offer. I know that I like to pay close attention to the DIK reviews as well as the comments of AAR reviewers and the members of canwetalk, to find out if there are some buried treasures I might have missed. But most of all, I like to look for books by writers whom the media may not notice. I know that I will hear all about whether the latest Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Mary Jo Putney is worth the effort, but I might not have heard about the latest Regency Romance author to emerge or that great series romance by an unknown author.

Blythe Barnhill, AAR's Managing Editor, keeps meticulous records. Blythe read 104 books in 2000, as opposed to the 136 she read in 1999. She attributes the lesser number to the fact that she had a newborn baby on top of additional AAR responsibilities, as if she needed to apologize for how few books she read. 69 of the 104 books she read were 2000-published romances. About her romance reading year, Blythe wrote, “I was actually surprised how many B's I had - 35 - more than any other grade." Here is a breakdown of Blythe's reading year:

  • 27 European Historicals
  • 14 Contemporaries
  • 14 Series Romances
  • 11 Regency Romances
  • 10 General Fiction/Literary Fiction
  • 5 Alternate Reality Romances
  • 4 Medieval Romances
  • 4 Non-Fiction
  • 3 Rereads of previously-read books
  • 1 Mystery

The big difference for Blythe this past year was that she read many more series titles than usual, and almost all were Brockmann's Tall, Dark, and Dangerous titles. She wrote, “She is by far my biggest glom this year. Overall my impression is that there were some good books this year, but few real standouts. The highlights for me were The Unsung Hero, Tears of the Moon, Get Lucky, Where Dreams Begin, and I Do, I Do, I Do (by Maggie Osborne).” And though author Cynthia Sterling has not fared well in our reviews in the past, Blythe also mentioned Sterling's Last Chance Ranch as a lesser sort of buried treasure.

Shelly Dodge, AAR’s Pollster, had some interesting comments on her reading year. She wrote:

“Of the romance novels I read about half were contemporaries. This is a huge change for me. Up until last year almost all of my romance reading was British Historical or Regency Romance with my trying out some of the other romance genres, but not really reading lots of them. I think I am reading contemporaries now for several reasons:
  • I like romantic suspense (like Hooper, Howard, Stuart, Robb) and have been reading more of these titles;

  • I have been reading lesbian romances from the presses like Naiad, Bella Books, Rising Tide etc. Most of these are contemporaries - to my great regret there is not really a British or Regency subgenre in lesbian romances;

  • I have been taking recommendations from the readers and AAR staff and found out I enjoy authors like Crusie and Krentz and have been keeping up with their latest releases;

  • I have started reading paranormals in a limited fashion (I cannot abide time travel - something about it just does not allow the suspension of disbelief). Many of the ones I like tend to be either about people with psychic abilities or some of the vampire novels and most are in a contemporary setting; and
  • This is very subjective - but I used to have the feeling that most contemporaries (based on series romances from the early to mid 80's) were "boy meets girl, boy and girl strike sparks, perhaps have the love hate thing going on, no other true obstacles other that initial misunderstanding and then boy gets girl." Well - since it's a romance I know boy gets girl, but I need a little something more. My perception was that the historicals usually gave a little more either in setting, manners, historical or social conflict. This may have been a disservice to stand alone contemporaries, but they seem to have more of a plot now.
"One of the trends I noticed this past year was that a lot of the better-known writers were able to 'refresh' themselves this year and had stronger books out that they have in a while. For example:
  • Stephanie Laurens - A Secret Love - the Cynster series was beginning to bog down a little and this one was definintly a step up from the two that preceeded it;

  • J.D. Robb - I love the In Death titles, but her latest was a really strong entry in the series;

  • Amanda Quick's Wicked Widow was much better than the last few Quick titles. (although, I have to say, I thought Soft Focus, her JAK book, was really boring);

  • Julia Quinn - with her last two she seems to really be coming into her own. I know a lot of people like her,but she often verges on too "sweet" for me. I read her because my sister loves her and we like to discuss our books, but How to Marry a Marquis almost put me in a sugar coma. The Duke and I and The Viscount Who Loved Me were the first two novels of hers that I have really enjoyed thoroughly. They had some flaws (her conflicts still seemed a little contrived and the heros take way too long to sort out the issues) but the dialogue and the characterization of her heroines seems to be improving. Of course - I tend to like somewhat acerbic heroines. The women in the Loretta Chase novels are a good example."

AAR Reviews Editor Nora Armstrong, who is one of our more "plugged in" staff in terms of the business of romance, had this to say about buried treasure: "For me the two biggest BT's in romance are the Incomparable Carla Kelly (a writing Diamond of the First Water, if ever there was one) and the sorely overlooked Gayle Wilson." Nora believes that Wilson's real talent is in the historical arena, although she won a RITA this past year for romantic suspense. She added, "I think she's waaaaay better, as a writer of category historicals, than any number of people who are in single-title. I'd love to see her get a contract with a house like Avon or Pocket, where her skills and stories could get the exposure and shelf-life they deserve." As for 2000 books specifically, Nora added, "In 2000, I granted DIK status to Jessica Benson's Lord Stanhope's Proposal. She's only had the one book come out, that I know of, and I would reserve judgement until at least her second title appears. I think she has enormous potential, however, to go pretty far, in Regencies and beyond, if she wants."

AAR Reviewer Teresa Galloway wrote about how AAR has changed her experiences. “My reading experiences were very different this year since I started reviewing in June/July and have since read more bad book than I ever did before. It helps a lot to rely on AAR instead of the other way around!”

Pandora's Box columnist Linda Hurst also shared her reading year experiences. She said, "I've never kept a reading journal - I read so many books it is just not something I have thought about doing. I read over 500 books last year. I read at least one book a day and, if reading series titles, many times two." She shared with the rest of our amazed staff that she occasionally goes on reading binges, reading six to eight books in a single weekend.

For all her reading, however, only perhaps four dozen books left indelible impressions. She said, "I read so many books that they tend to blend together. I have a tendency to blend plots together, but a lot of the books fall into the category of the Morsi that Blythe and I read for Pandora - average and not memorable." She does, of course, remember the plots of books she hated, but when it comes to most books, her memories are only general - did she like it or not?

AAR reviewer Jennifer Keirans shared these thoughts with us:

“In 2000, as far as I can tell, I recommended 20 books (A's and B's). 14 books got C's from me, and 16 got D's or F's. That does not count the older fantasy novels from my own collection for which I wrote DIK reviews.

"The way I remember the year, it was pretty mediocre. There were some very good books - Welcome to Temptation by Crusie; Hunter's By Arrangement; Heath's Never Love a Cowboy, and Eagle's The Last Good Man. Other authors in my recommended stack were Morsi, Dodd, Wiggs, and Feather. Except for Hunter, I pretty much expected to like all of these books based on past reviews. There weren't any real surprises except for Kimberly Raye's Midnight Kisses.

"The only trend I spotted in 2000 is probably no surprise: some (not all) really famous bestselling authors are now writing complete garbage. Fern Michaels should be fined for Listen To Your Heart, it was so awful, and I think you all know how I feel about Stella Cameron's All Smiles.

"Mostly I read a lot of really mediocre, forgettable books. Some of the books I read did sneak into the B- category, like Robert's Lady by Nicole Byrd. Some are only distinguished because they were sort of amusingly cheesy (like Laurey's Walk in Moonlight). I also had one excruciating string of about four F reviews in a row.

"Would Lorraine Heath be considered a buried treasure? She's truly a talented romance writer, but they put her books in these cheesy covers and as far as I can tell, no one (outside of AAR) has ever heard of her. I think she deserves Nora Roberts' contract. I also think Tracy Fobes is a buried treasure - she's most assuredly not everyone's cup of tea, but she's writing very creative and unusual romances, and I think she's fun.”

AAR Reviewer Christine Peterson read a wide variety of books, many of them from subgenres that were new to her. She wrote, "This was a year of expanding my horizons; before now I had limited myself to single title contemporaries. I've discovered that I like romantic suspense, Regency Romance, series romance, and American Historical Romance - in fact, my favorite book of the year was I Do, I Do, I Do. Who knows, in 2001 I may try time travel!"

Another of our newer reviewers, Kelly Parker, wanted to mention some titles that may have been overlooked - Rebecca Hagan Lee's A Hint of Heather and Elizabeth Boyle's No Marriage of Convenience. She loved Susan King's The Stone Maiden and thoroughly enjoyed both Victoria Alexander's The Husband List and Sandra Hill's Truly, Madly Viking. Her favorite romance for 2000 was The Bride and the Beast by Teresa Medeiros. She also found Susan Grant's Once a Pirate a fabulous debut.

Jennifer Schendel wrote that this is the first year that she's kept track of what she read. She wrote:

“Gayle Wilson is definitely a buried treasure. I lucked out and got my hands on her entire backlist. Her Intrigues are okay...mind you it's not a line I particularly like, so the fact she can get me to buy them is something in itself. But her historicals are absolutely wonderful. It's a toss up between His Secret Duchess, Honor's Bride, and The Heart's Wager, which is my fave, but if there was a category of best short story for the year I'd choose her story My Darling Echo which was released in the Bride by Arrangement anthology during the summer.

"As for authors I've discovered this year that I consider buried treasures? Though not a romance author, Carole Bellacera is one I'd recommend, though the fact her books are kind of dark and cover a sensative political situation that might turn readers off. I also adore Emma Jensen because her writing is solid and consistent, but I don't think she's well known outside Regency readers. And for a debut author I enjoyed Fay Robinson's A Man like Mac and will watch for her next release. Other than that I only read authors who are either already 'rising stars' or 'established stars'.

"Now for the year overall. I read 135 books, which is double the previous year because this year I made a concious effort not to re-read my comfort reads and try authors who were new to me. There were only four books I couldn't be bothered to finish (which is saying a lot because I have this irrational belief that I'll get in trouble with the book police if I don't finish a book). There were three others that I thought sucked, but since I had to review them I had to finish reading them. Out of everything I read this year there were only 18 that I really truly adored and less than half of those were 2000 releases. I read more series titles and historical romances than in previous years, partly due to reviewing, partly due to word of mouth, and partly due to gloms of Suz Brockmann and Mary Jo Putney's back list.

New reviewer Maria K had some interesting comments about her reading experience as well, but they are perhaps unique given that she lives in Finland and does not have access to the wide range of romances available in other parts of the world. She did indicate she is generally a year or more behind in what she has access to, and most of the bookstores she visits have very limited shelf space for romance authors if their names aren't Nora Roberts. She did spend the latter part of 2000 reading DIK titles and other AAR-recommended reads. In part, here's what she read:

"Some old series titles by Bevarly and Roberts. Six or seven Heyers, all of the divine Julia Quinn's backlist, a couple of funny Victoria Alexanders. Knight of a Trillion Stars was okay, even if purple. I also read Lord of Scoundrels and Stephanie Laurens' Cynster series, one Karen Ranney, Donna Simpson's Lord St. Claire's Angel (which Anne so highly recommended), and Lisa Kleypas' Avon backlist. Bevarly's series titles and Roberts' single titles get translated, of course, but I haven't seen many of the other books here, and have to order from the Internet."

On that interesting perspective, I'll turn it back over to Laurie, who's going to talk further about buried treasures, and how she views them.

Buried Treasure (by LLB):
As publisher of AAR, I tend to look at things with a different perspective than do our individual reviewers. For instance, Robin, who for the second year has written a segment on the year's buried treasures, looks at individual books. I look at authors. And when we both consider authors, I start by looking at at those buried most deeply in the sand. I also look at more "minor" buried treasures - authors who haven't written multiple DIK's but who have written some good books yet are stuck with low sales and perhaps lesser publishers. Go into any book store and see all the shelf space devoted to lead authors, some of whom it saddens us to see taking up such valuable space. One way to counteract that is to look for these lesser-known authors; remember, even if you hear about them online all the time, that doesn't mean the average romance reader has.

Several authors whom I would consider rising stars are those Robin considers buried treasures. For instance, Suzanne Brockmann, Ruth Wind/Barbara Samuel, Merline Lovelace, and Paula Detmer Riggs are authors whom I would consider rising stars. Our own Sandi Morris would disagree with the latter - she would classify PDR as a "stalled rising star." And another of our staff, Nora Armstrong, would also disagree about Merline Lovelace, considering her an established star. I think, now that Merline is having her historicals published by MIRA rather than Harlequin Historicals, that's a sign, among others (such as her contract with Signet/Dutton for single title straight fiction), that Nora might be right. Lovelace is one of those authors who I believe will be "really big" one day - I don't think she's there yet.

Regardless of definition, and both Robin's and my own are probably equally valid, the point is the same - to share with readers authors and books they may otherwise have missed. Perhaps they don't read books published by that publisher, or that sub-genre, or are not willing to try the untried. That's where I hope my list is useful, because one of the most important things to consider in whether an author is a buried treasure is consistency. For years I would not read Regency Romances, which is probably the most endangered of the romance sub-genres. While several of the Regency Romance authors on my list are established in the sub-genre, they are not known outside of it, which is a shame. Regency authors often translate their success into historicals set in the Regency - Stephanie Laurens is a prime example of this - but others continue to write Regencies, and go unnoticed by the majority of romance readers.

Because consistency is so important to me in this endeavor, I went through our reviews pages and culled those (perhaps) lesser-known romance authors who have received at least two good reviews (B- and above) from us, and, in most instances, only good reviews. I've added some notations following their names, as have some of our staff, and in some instances I've added only a question mark; I'm hoping you will help "fill in the blanks." Are two books too few to judge consistency? Are those I consider buried treasures or rising stars truly buried treasures or rising stars? Your comments on that will be of considerable help as well. One caveat - a few of these authors have an average review as well as multiple good ones, and one actually has a bad review. In most of these instances, the "not good" review was part of a dual review. If this list stands, fine; if you help me whittle it down to half or a third its size, that's fine too.

I considered making this single list into two lists - one for major buried treasures and one for minor ones. While things like RITA awards and/or tremendous on-line presence should make a difference in an author's career, they don't always translate into sales. A Carla Kelly with five DIK's and two RITA's is a much larger buried treasure than an author who's received three or four B's, but it's all too easy to overlook both. In the end, I settled on one too-large list. I'd rather provide too many choices than too few, even if some of the authors listed are those whom I don't care for myself.

Finally, in at least a couple of instances, authors made this list with either small publishers or via the self-publishing route. Small publishers, while indeed bringing us books that were overlooked by the major houses, have proven something of a mixed blessing. We've given some good reviews over the years to some small houses that have had unreliable distribution systems. If good books can't be bought, that's not a good thing.

Here now is my list, with lots of help from our staff of talented writers and editors:

All of us at AAR hope this discussion has been interesting, informative, and entertaining. We think it's a good way to kick off voting for the best and worst of 2000 in our annual reader's poll. Remember, the ballot is long and requires some thought. You may find it helpful to save the ballot to your hard drive or print it out in order to study it before filling it out online and submitting it. Voting will continue through February 15th and the awards will be announced on March 1st.

Below you'll find our questions for this column. We can't wait to hear from you!

Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:

Your Year in Reading - How did your year in reading go? How many books did you read? How many romances did you read? Compare and contrast to previous years in terms of new releases, older releases, the tried and true versus the unknown, changes in your romance reading habits, etc.
The Best and the Worst - In order to help you get ready for this year's Reader's Poll, please start thinking about 2000 published books. Which were the best, and which were the worst? Which authors did you discover, which authors did you give up on? Do you think your own reading experiences will be similar to or be significantly different from most other readers?
The Buried Treasure - How do you define a buried treasure? Is it a single book or a trend of at least a couple of books? When you first hear of an author, who skeptical or excited are you if what you hear is good? Which books were you tempted to try but did not? For which books did you give into temptation - and how glad are you that you succumbed? Which author/book is your own greatest buried treasure? What are some effective ways to turn buried treasures into shining stars?
Buried Treasure, Rising Stars, Established Stars - Please help refine LLB's list of Buried Treasure authors. We'd like to add a new page to our Buried Treasures pages! Any refinements and comments would be appreciated.
Trends? - What trends did you see in romances this year? For example, did you see any changes in the kinds of heroines and heroes being written? Were more of the couples married? Divorced? Also, did you see any trends in the style of writing? Do romance novels seem to be becoming more or less sophisticated?

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