Issue #82 (November 1, 1999)

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It's a Glom-Fest!

My Extended MIRA Glom:
After writing last time about glomming, I realized I've been in the midst of an extensive glom of my own, and have been for more about a year. It's a MIRA glom. It includes my buying Elizabeth Lowell, Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, and Linda Howard single title reissues of earlier series title releases. MIRA, in addition to signing Debbie Macomber to a multi-million dollar contract, seemingly releases two additional types of romances - romantic suspense and single title reissues of earlier series titles by Lowell, JAK, Roberts, Howard, Diana Palmer, and Barbara Delinsky.

On the one hand, I think it's great to be able to fill out the backlists of some authors I enjoy. On the other hand, the prices charged for these books - generally $6.00 - is too high. Back to the first hand, several of these books have been good reads. But, uh oh, back to that "other hand" again - it seems as though the editors didn't do a particularly consistent job in determining which books to reissue.

Let's start with Jayne Ann Krentz. So far I've read five of her reissues. I very much enjoyed Lady's Choice and found The Pirate to be fun as well. Both of these books were filled with interesting characters, lots of fun, and great chemistry. They were, in essence, trademark Jayne Ann Krentz - zippy, zany, and sexy. A third reissue, Witchcraft, was a darker story, and one I found neither particularly terrific nor particularly objectionable. It was simply "okay." But, Test of Time and The Family Way, both originally released in 1987, were books I graded D+. Having just finished The Family Way, I'm more familiar with it, but other than a unique beginning to the book (the heroine leaves the hero after a three-month relationship when she discovers she's pregnant), most of the story was quite generic romance. The hero is simply a cowboy re-dressed as an agricultural research scientist, the villain is transparent and behaves in a stereotypical fashion at the end, and, what's most disappointing is that the sparkle with which JAK often writes is simply missing from the pages of the book. The heroine reunites the hero with his estranged family, but other than an eccentric boss and aunt, both of whom appear on far too few pages, JAK's trademark wit simply isn't much in evidence. The love scenes were plentiful, but the chemistry between the lead characters was lacking.

While it's been some time since I read Test of Time, I do recall what I didn't like. It featured amazingly purple prose, another cowboy hero who could have been dragged directly out of Central Casting, and a villainous episode at the end who was way over the top.

Compared with Lady's Choice and The Pirate, these other two books were pikers. Why were they chosen to be reissued as single title contemporaries?

Not to be picking on Jayne Ann Krentz, who, in her Amanda Quick incarnation was one of my first and most successful gloms and has given me many hours of pleasure, the same question comes to mind about the other authors mentioned earlier in this column. Some of the Nora Roberts reissues have been really good while others have been ho-hum (although none earned less than a grade of C). In the case of Linda Howard, some have been terrific while others have been the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. The same goes for Elizabeth Lowell, and I imagine the same is true for the other authors mentioned, although the only Delinsky's I've read until now have been her mainstream novels, and I've never read a Diana Palmer I liked at all. I did just buy a trade size paperback of three Barbara Delinsky series titles and plan to read those shortly. I'll let you know if she'll be a part of my MIRA glom in the future. As for Diana Palmer, she wrote the first contemporary romance I ever read (as Susan Kyle), and I swore off contemporary romance for approximately two years after that! If you love Diana Palmer, tell me why!

What have been your glomming experiences with these MIRA authors?

All the Gloms that are Fit to Print:
Nancy Beth writes that, for her, part of the glomming experience is her "hunt for elusive books by an author. I enjoy this so much that I limit my hunting grounds just to heighten the experience." For me, the actual hunt is more of a frustration. Here's a prime example. About three years ago, I received a Desert Isle Keeper Review of Jessica Bryan's Beneath a Sapphire Sea. This was the first in a trilogy written in the early to mid 1990's, and the review so fascinated me that I started to search for the book, both online, by the telephone to UBS's nation-wide that I've used in the past, and locally. At least once, and perhaps twice, the book was nearly in my grasp, but I was never able to actually buy it (and the sequels, which were much easier to find) until a few months ago - for a price. Frankly, I think many readers read the review and they simply beat me to the punch, but I was thrilled to finally put my hands on it, and gladly paid the $10.00 I was charged. About two weeks later, I heard from AAR Reviews Editor Marianne Stillings, who wanted to know if I was still interested in the book - she had found not one, but two copies in a throwaway bin for less than a $1.00 each in her neck of the woods! I'm saving the book for a special day, btw, and certainly hope it is worth it.

Nancy Beth adds, "sometimes I will also not buy a book which should be included in my glom because I can't find the book before it in the series. For example, I glomming Dare/Davis and have almost completed my (search and buy mission). Today I scored big and am walking on air because I found Lord of the Storm. Now I can go back and get The Skypirate, which is easy to find around here. Truly, I am transported! I only buy at my three local UBS, no mail-order, web, etc. So when my perseverance pays off, it is quite exciting. Today was an exceptional day because I also got Heartstrings by Paisley, which I have been hunting for 2 years! Whooohooo!"

Jo-Ann finds that online shopping has made her searches less difficult, and recounts that, several years ago she was on a mad search for Mackenzie's Mountain, and searched all over Pennsylvania to no avail. She added:

"My wonderful husband would take me on jaunts sometimes (he likes to drive, thank God) and if we traveled we would check to see if there was a UBS nearby. Five years ago we drove my firstborn son to Louisiana to abandon him there at the college of his choice (what was the brat thinking to go so far from his mother?). On the way home (childless, I still haven't gotten over it) we stayed over in Tennessee. My wonderful, beloved husband on his own the next morning, knowing how badly I felt, drove me to a UBS. You guessed it. They had the book. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. The clerk was very apologetic because he had to charge me full price for the book since it was so popular. I gave him the $2.50 and ran! To this day my husband pats himself on the back (deservedly so) and likes to joke that I happily traded my son in for a used book in Tennessee. I don't think he's right. Right? Na, I mean I really wish my son was closer to home, but you know, that book was sooooo good....."

Susan says she gloms, glom-reads, and has even been involved in the GWHR (glomming without having read) phenomenon. Most recently she bought Susan Elizabeth Phillips' entire backlist without having read a single SEP. Luckily enough, she loved each book. She recently read A Rogue's Proposal by Stephanie Laurens, then started rereading backwards through the Bar Cynster series. She wrote, "I left A Rake's Vow to come to work today and will finish that and reread Devil's Bride before I pick up something else."

Susan also continues to glom an author even when she no longer loves that author's books. I'm somewhat guilty of that myself, and even though Catherine Coulter has rarely thrilled me in recent years, she has written five of my DIK's and was the first romance author I read. Even though I'm not much of a gothic fan, and haven't enjoyed her re-writes of Regency Romances as single title historicals, I did buy The Countess, her latest, which is a gothic re-written Regency. Susan and I part company, however, in that she may read a book or two in a series, not enjoy those book(s), and will continue to buy the series in hopes it will catch on, even if that author is new to her. With a tbr mountain of more than 500 books, I'm to the point where I cross an author off my list unless there is some compelling reason I should not. Rarely will I continue to buy an author if I haven't enjoyed them in the past.

Here is a partial list of authors currently being glommed or successfully glommed by our readers (and in no particular order).
Rather than my creating individual links to reviews and/or articles for the authors listed in the table below, which is incredibly time consuming and makes my already painful wrists hurt worse, if you are interested in learning more about an author, use our handy search feature, but realize those links won't be "jump" links and you'll have to use your "back" button to get back to this column.
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Ruth Wind/Barbara SamuelLori FosterAlison Kent
Lynn KerstanSuzanne BrockmannDonna Kaufmann
Julie GarwoodDeborah SimmonsRachel Lee
Kathleen CreightonJo GoodmanJustine Davis
Jennifer CrusieLorraine HeathLoretta Chase
Gillian BradshawMary Jo PutneyJo Beverley
Laura KinsalePamela MorsiMary Balogh
Jan Freed (highly recommended by author Alison Kent)Megan ChanceJane Feather
Laura London aka Sharon & Tom CurtisRoberta GellisConnie Brockway
Lisa KleypasKaren RanneyNancy Baker
Theresa Weir (who signed with a new publisher after being dropped by Harper)J.D. Robb/Nora RobertsGeorgette Heyer
Rexanne Becnel (don't bother with The Rose of Blacksword, but do seek out A Dove at Midnight, Maiden Bride, and Thief of My Heart, the former being one of my DIK's)Elizabeth BevarlyJill Barnett
Danice AllenBlanche ChenierChristina Dodd
Suzanne Enoch (I GWHR but changed my mind after trying one of her books, and traded the others)Miranda JarrettCarla Kelly
Anne Stuart (I've glommed her historicals and am trying some of her series as well, but have stayed away from her full-length contemporaries)Laura Lee GuhrkeJanet Evanovich
Jilly Cooper (a favorite of author Danelle Harmon)Lee DamonDiana Gabaldon

Every reader has a glom horror story - a glom that didn't work out, either because they could never find all the books, or because the hunt turned out more satisfying than the reading. For me, the hunt for all the Skye O'Malley books by Bertrice Small far surpassed my enjoyment of the two Small books I read, and I traded them en masse, at a loss of quite a bit of money (those trade-sized books proved costly). After hearing wonderful things about Susan Johnson for years, I collected a fair number of her books as well, only to find them too heavy on eroticism and light on romance. They were traded as well. Though these were long-ago gloms, I haven't always learned my lesson. Although, more recent failures have not been nearly as costly - all the Beverly Barton's I bought were picked up at UBS's for next to nothing. Though I know many readers who love her, including one of our own editors, which is why I sought her out to begin with, she doesn't do much for me. And while one of Peggy Webb's books really was fun, the other three or four I've read have ranged from silly to downright awful.

My most successful gloms include Connie Brockway, Amanda Quick, Nora Roberts, Leanne Banks, Patricia Oliver, Morgan Llywelyn, Jennifer Crusie, and most certainly Julie Garwood (although I did suffer at the end from the negative effects of glom reading with her eventually). Partially successful gloms (some great books, some so-so books, and some regretable reads) include Lisa Kleypas, Katherine Sutcliffe, Catherine Coulter, Elizabeth Bevarly, Donna Kauffman, Merline Lovelace, Anne Rivers Siddons, Anne Rice, Christina Skye, and Lisa Ann Verge - I wish she'd go back to writing historicals again!

For Tanya, three recent gloms have proved unsatisfying - at least partially. While she loved Laura Lee Guhrke's Conor's Way, the rest of Guhrke's backlist left her cold. After having adored My Beloved, she glommed Karen Ranney' backlist, only to give up in the middle of Above All Others. She did find success, however, with her glom of Megan Chance, but is parceling out those reads to avoid the negative effects of glom-reading, about which Mary Lynne reiterated when she wrote, "boy, do I have to avoid glom-reading! It's dangerous. I find that I notice the author's writing patterns, her idiosyncrasies, her character similarities, and more. It gets to be too much, and too much at once."

Still, I say, congratulations, Tanya - may the glom be with you! And, if you do devise a 12-step program for glomming to help you resist "the urge to stop by every bookstore for the elusive back title," be sure to share it with the rest of us.

Candy agreed with Tanya about Above All Others, but urges Tanya to give Ranney another chance. Candy's own worst glomming decision was to buy the Miranda Jarrett backlist. Reader Kestra disagrees; she loved Jarrett's Fairbourne trilogy and is in the midst of glomming her Sparhawk series, set in the Colonial U.S.

Re-Reading, aka Books as Old Friends:
Susan, who earlier in this column not only admitted to glomming, but to glom-reading, and glomming-without-having read, is like me in that she judges a book's greatness by whether or not she would re-read it. She wrote, "I have always loved rereading and find that a book, for me, is a good book if I enjoy reading it. It is a great book if I reread it." How true! When I grade the books I read, the re-read factor is the final question I ask myself. If I know I won't re-read the book, it doesn't get DIK status.

I know many people, my own mother among them, who would never re-read a book. She also never watches a movie more than once, and is amazed that anyone would chose to re-read a book. For me, re-reading a beloved book is often the perfect thing to do after a reading slump, or as a bridge to another book after having read such a great book that everything else seems to pale in comparison. At such a time, re-reading part or all of a DIK really hits the spot.

Rochelle finds that she spends more time re-reading than she does reading new books. Her favorite authors to savor over and over are Iris Johansen and Kat Martin. For Cheryl, who knows she has many book yet to read, "the urge of returning to old friends is compelling. I do wonder if I am missing new friends by doing so, but can't seem to help myself." The object of her affection these days? Stephanie Laurens and the Fallen Angels series by Mary Jo Putney.

Like many of us who enjoy reading a series of books by an author, Leigh will re-read part or all of a series just before a new book in that series is published. Currently she's "gearing up for a Jo Beverley re-read in anticipation of Rothgar."

Karen sometimes feels slightly guilty when re-reading because of her growing tbr pile, but admits that at times, only the "tried and true will do." When the weather turns cold, she reverts to hibernation mode and settles into the brisk New England fall and winter with a favorite read or two. Gini agrees to sometimes feeling guilty about her growing tbr pile when she re-reads, which, for her, is also like visiting old friends. But she rationalizes that all those new books will suit just fine for the next big Wyoming blizzard to come along.

I've found after years of talking with romance readers that re-reading is kind of like having a TBR pile. Some people do it. Some people are aghast that others do it. Where do you fit in?

Ageism?
A couple of months ago, AAR Reviewer Rebecca Ekmark wrote a segment for this column about young heroines in their late teens, and their romances with heroes in their mid-30's. The love between a man and a woman with a couple of decades between them is such an interesting phenomenon that society even has a name for it - the May-December romance.

What I'd like to do today is take that discussion into a slightly different realm and talk about two related but disparate topics - the May-December romance when the hero and heroine are older, and the older hero in general. I don't know about you, but I've had a thing for older men since I was quite young. I've never been attracted to boyish men - I always enjoy watching Richard Gere in Pretty Woman until the bathtub scene when his hairless naked chest is revealed. Then I cool off immediately; a "real" man has hair on his chest, doesn't he? The boyish allure of Tom Cruise doesn't do much for me either; I was far more excited by Tom Selleck when I was twenty than by Tom Cruise. As for Leonardo diCaprio, I just don't get him at all.

While there's no doubt that a 60-year-old Sean Connery makes the heart of many a woman flutter (including mine), my love of older men has never really extended that far. When I was a college freshman of 17, I fell in love with my husband, who was 23. We have six years between us, and he is sexier today than he was back then. In fact, the longer I read romance, the sexier he gets. But that's besides the point!

Rather than rambling further, I'll try to get to the point. My husband is now 44 and while he's gorgeous and sexy, and far too nice to be a really interesting romance hero, I don't know that I want to read about heroes his age, or older.

Many months ago, I read I Thee Wed by Amanda Quick. This book is likely my least favorite by Jayne Ann Krentz using her Amanda Quick pseudonym, and, no, I really don't mean to be picking on her in this column. I've graded several of her Amanda Quick historicals in the B+ to B- range, but this one earned a C- from me, mostly because the romantic aspect of the book seemed lacking. But something else bothered me as I read it, and I was never able to put my finger on it until recently - I think the hero was too old. A few of the heroes in Amanda Quick's more recent historical romances have been suggested to be in their late 30's, but there is some mental stumbling block, at least for me, between late 30's and 40, or 40+.

What got me thinking about age so recently? The Admiral's Bride by Suzanne Brockmann, an author much beloved by our review staff (four of her books have received Desert Isle Keeper status, including her upcoming release, The Body Guard). The Admiral's Bride, seventh in her immensely popular Tall, Dark, & Dangerous mini-series, features a 54-year-old hero and a 30-year-old heroine. Although I own all of this series (I was lucky enough to be in my favorite romance-friendly bookstore on the very day the owner had the first three hard-to-find titles behind the counter, and was luckier still in that she deemed me worthy of buying them!), I've only read a couple of the titles, but decided to read The Admiral's Bride out of order because I wanted to see if I'd be interested in such an old hero, even though he was buff, fit, and all-round yummy.

At the same time, I took an informal poll among our review staff and also emailed Suzanne Brockmann herself. What I personally like best about Suzanne is her willingness to answer tough questions, and to really say what she feels (she had done a Write Byte for me some time ago on her love of alpha heroes), so I knew she wouldn't mind my being blunt and questioning her on the possible "ick" factor of a hero in his 50's, and on the large age difference.

My first question to Suzanne was: I've never read a book with a 54 year old hero before (just about the age of Harrison Ford, isn't he? - I was reminded of that based on the Write Byte you did for me a few years ago). Where did the idea come from to write a hero who is 54? Is it because you are getting older and so many readers are getting older?

Suzanne wrote in response:

"Actually, the idea came to me when I was writing It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, the book in the Tall, Dark & Dangerous series in which Admiral Jake Robinson first appeared. In that book, Daisy, Jake's longtime companion, died of cancer. And I discovered as I was writing the scenes with Jake that he was a character I wanted to spend more time with. (And I've always pictured him as a slightly older Mel Gibson. Of course, in the prologue, during Vietnam, he's in his early twenties. (Picture Mel circa Mad Max. . . Yum.)

"Because of the nature of my TDD series (it's not about brothers or another family unit that has to end - it can be ongoing forever) and because of the popularity of the series (readers seem to want it to go on forever!), I'm always looking at secondary characters as potential heroes in their own right. And the idea of Jake just didn't go away. In fact, it grew on me. Look at our culture - all our big box office heroes are getting older. Kevin Costner, Harrison (oh, Harrison!), Bruce Willis, and yes, Michael Douglas, to name a few. And hey, Sean Connery, anyone? Does anyone remember that last Star Trek movie, the one called 'Jean-Luc Piccard Wears A Tight-Fitting T-Shirt?' Oh. My. God. He's fifty-something. And friends, he's bald, too. But Patrick Stewart has a body to die for and charisma that completely does it for me. No, there's no reason at all older men can't continue to be sexual beings."

My next question to Suzanne was whether she thought this hero would appeal to younger readers, say, readers in their twenties. When I polled our review staff on this, the younger reviewers did not want to read about a hero of this age, while some of our older staffers didn't find this to be a problem at all.

She responded thusly:

"When I was 12, I fell in love with Paul Newman. (Anyone remember The Sting? And Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid?) He was, needless to say, much, much older than me! Frankly, when dealing with fiction, I don't think age matters. I like reading YA novels even now as a 39 year old. And in my latest book for Ballantine (Unsung Hero, due out in summer 2000), I have two major secondary characters who are 76 and 80 - both veterans of WWII. I think my readers of all ages will enjoy their story."

We next tackled the ick-factor head on. I asked Suzanne, "You tackled quite a lot in this book - a widower who had a great first marriage as opposed to a man who doesn't trust women after being burned. You used a 30-ish heroine with a 54-year-old man. How do you cope with possible 'ick-factor' doing this? Remember when they costarred Gwyneth Paltrow with Michael Douglas last year? They talked on and on about ick factor."

Suzanne answered:

"Frankly, I thought the ick factor came from the fact that Gwyneth's parents were friends of Michael's and that they knew each other growing up. Imagine doing a love scene with Daddy's friend... To me, that's the ick - the reality that the actors faced, not the "reality" of the fiction. And perhaps it says something about the writing or the directing or even the acting, that the movie couldn't overcome the reality of the actors' true relationship.

"I tried to show in The Admiral's Bride that these two people - despite their difference in age - were so similar in so many ways. They related to each other with a special spark that included a physical attraction. However, if Jake had still been married to Daisy, he would have liked Zoe in many of the same ways - he simply wouldn't have let himself respond to her sexually. But the truth was, these two people belonged together. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I honestly believe that age doesn't matter. Who says love has to follow rules?

"A major subplot of The Admiral's Bride focuses on Jake and how he deals with the fact that his much younger team doesn't think he's up to speed, that he can't get the job done because of his age. You know, I have an 88 year old cousin who still, when she goes swimming, swims across the lake!!! If people stay fit, there's no reason why we should assume age is a disability!!!!"

Finally, I asked Suzanne a rather indelicate but practical question. How do you write about sexual vitality in a man this age? In the book, after Jake and Zoe consummate their relationship, he was up for seconds very quickly, and at age 54, he's hardly the Everready Bunny. In response, Suzanne wrote:

"First of all, all men are different. Just cuz a guy's in his 50's doesn't mean it automatically takes X-amount of time to, um, well, get it up again. There's no official chart - like for height and weight! And even if there were, it would apply to the average. And my heroes are never average!

"Secondly, and most importantly, I connect sexual desire completely to emotional desire and emotional need, and when, after a love scene, I refer to the hero's 'wanting' the heroine again, right away, that doesn't necessarily mean that hey, ho, he's ready to go! It means that he's so filled with his desire and need and love for her that he's not reaching for the remote control to watch the ball game!!! It means that he's so overcome with everything he's feeling for her that despite the fact that his body's not following at quite the same pace, the idea of making love to her again excites him.

"IMO, foreplay and lovemaking begin in the mind!!!"

After our email Q&A, I finished reading The Admiral's Bride. I thought Jake and Zoe's compatibility was presented extremely well and very believably. I found Jake to be an absolutely wonderful hero, perhaps one of the best I've read all year. However, I did have a problem with the age difference and am having trouble getting to its core. Perhaps if I outline it here, you can help me get to the bottom if it.

At the start of the book, Jake is a 22-year-old lieutenant in the Vietnam War and saves the 20-year-old man who becomes Zoe's father. By this time, Jake is already a legend, and by the end of war, has saved hundreds of men. Zoe is a covert operative and has idolized Jake since she was a child, and during the course of the book it is revealed that she fantasized about him as a young teen. While having a heroine fall in love and live happily ever after with her childhood hero is very romantic, something about her fantasizing about him as a young teen struck me as, well, icky. I believe it's icky sexually, and here's why.

The fantasies girls have are quite different from the ones grown women have - at least that was the case for me. As a 13-year-old girl, my fantasies were crushes and while pretty darned exciting at the time, they were not sexual or erotic. For some reason, having Zoe involved as a grown woman with a grown woman's fantasies with the same man she fantasized about with a 13-year-old's crush mentality made me uncomfortable. Am I on to something here? I'd like to hear both from those of you who have read this book and from those who haven't.

And, in addition to the narrow focus of this book, let's also discuss the topic of age in general. Is there a general age for a hero you enjoy? What about a heroine? At what age would you lose interest in a hero or heroine? Are you interested in reading romances with perhaps heroes younger than the heroines? What about a set of 40-year-olds? Fifty year-olds?

Time to Post to the Message Board:

Here are the topics I'd like you to consider posting about:

    MIRA reprints - Have you taken advantage of the MIRA reprints for Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Barbara Delinsky, Linda Howard, Elizabeth Lowell, Diana Palmer, or Debbie Macomber? How successful has this experience been for you? Has it been a mixed bag and have you wondered in certain instances how they pick the titles for reprint that they do? And, does it bother you that the prices for these re-prints for series romances are at single title level?

    All the Gloms that are Fit to Print - Feel free to share your glomming experiences, whether on glomming, glom-reading, or glomming-without-having-read (aka GWHR). If you have a particular success story or horror story, share that as well! And, are there authors you continue to glom even though you haven't loved them for some time - in other words, they remain automatic buys even though they perhaps no longer should be?

    Re-Reading aka Books as Old Friends - Do you form sentimental attachments to certain books or do you read 'em and leave 'em? If you are a re-reading sort, which are your favorites to re-read? Is re-readability a criterion for deeming a book a favorite keeper?

    Ageism? - Rather than focus on age differences between heroes and heroines, let's talk about favorite ages for each, and whether or not you have an upper or lower limit to the types of heroes you want to read about. Do you think your tastes have changed/will change as you age? Would you like to read about a 40-year-old couple? How about 50-year-old couple? And, is there an "ick" factor involved in the scenario from The Admiral's Bride?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
In conjunction with Suzanne Brockmann

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