Issue #85 (December 15, 1999)

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Preparing my "year-end" column is one of my most favorite things to do here at AAR. It's when I get the chance to look back over what I've read during the year and think about the books in a different way. Did I read the books other people were reading? If so, did I like them as much as others? Did my reviews hold up - both for me and for others? Did the books I thought were good actually stand up throughout the year? Were the bad ones as bad as I'd originally thought? It's also when I get the chance to ask you about your year of reading romance, and what you've discovered about yourself, your likes and dislikes, and your discoveries of authors and books.

But, before we move on into a discussion of the past year, I thought it would be nice to move onto a topic brought up in the last issue, that being your own love affair with the written word.

More Bookie Recollections:
My Aunt Eleanor never fails to remind me that when I was a precocious child, I used to read to her and my Uncle Dave from the encyclopedia. Perhaps it is because they were intellectuals (and communists to boot!), they always treated the little me like I was an adult. I loved that.

Ava also recalls reading encyclopedias, and the dictionary as well. She wrote that she's "guilty of reading anything within reach." She added, "I love words, I love hearing words read. But most of all I love hearing them in my own head where my imagination breathes them into living things. I cannot fathom life without the written word. All three of my children also love to read, and I still read out loud to them even though the oldest is 16. If I'm reading and I laugh out loud, there goes my personal reading time, because they will demand 'Read it, read it, read it!' "

Peggy said she was born with the reading bug. She never read children's books; when others were reading about Dick, Jane, and Spot, she was reading Nancy Drew mysteries. She also said, "Non-bookies, such as my husband, can't understand the attraction. I cannot imagine the dullness of the life of someone who 'doesn't like to read'! What's up with that? Might as well not like to breathe!"

AAR Reviewer Robin recalled that her father instilled in her a love of reading. She says that reading gave her a great escape from homework, chores, and parental nagging. Robin wrote, "I honestly can't imagine what my childhood would have been like without that wholesome and socially acceptable means of escape. When I got to college I became a history major with a literature minor. Why? It was a great excuse to read. My history courses carried a book a week. When people said they didn't have time to read because they had to study, I understood. I felt as though I was getting away with something because I had the opportunity to read about the drama of people's lives and get credit for it."

Tianie caught the reading bug in her pre-school days. She has had a life-long love of words that many readers share. She wrote:

"I just fell in love with words. That's how I think of my books: an author's way of catching words and turning them into lovely phrases and even lovelier images. Even now, a pretty phrase will cause me to go into raptures for weeks on end. I'm one of those chronic bookies who can't go a minute without reading something - anything. In really bad times, I've even read the dictionary! When I was younger, my mother also would take away my books to punish me. Those were the hardest times! I thought I would die of boredom - or from my brain cells going into spasms over the loss of my books. I'm worse now. I won't let anyone near my books - except a trusted friend who's as bad off as I am. I treasure all my books, even the old, torn up ones. These don't bother me; a battered book just means it's a well-loved book!"

Like Tianie and many other readers, Nicole recalled loving to read so much while growing up that her punishment often took the form of not being allowed to read. She wrote, "(I) got in trouble for continuing to read after reading time was over, and was punished by my parents by not letting me read - I was 'grounded' from reading during 7th grade for having bad grades!"

For Paula, falling in love with reading came during the sixth grade, at the hands of her teacher. Paula wrote that, by the end of that school year, she was reading literature from the 12th grade curriculum. She remembers hiding books inside textbooks and reading when she was supposed to be "working." Luckily, she was only caught once. Apparently Paula was luckier than I - I was caught doing this several times. Most of my teachers, though, never really got very upset about this - they seemed to love to read as much as I did.

For Pam, loving to read came later in life. She remembers a friend from work bringing her some favorite romances, about ten in all, and suggesting Pam read them. Among the books were titles by Judith McNaught, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and Jude Deveraux. She wrote:

"I thought there was no way I would ever read that many books, but not wanting to hurt her feelings, I took the entire bag home. Little did she know what kind of monster she was creating! I finished them in record time, and requested more! After 12 years of reading romance, I'm so thankful to my friend. I'm hopelessly hooked. I wish I had been like many of you who developed their love of reading so early in life. I have so many books to catch up on, so I'm going to go get to it now."

Several readers posted to the board about the sorts of comments they hear from those who are not "bookies." One reader wrote, "One of my non-bookie friends once made a comment to me that it must be nice to have the 'free-time' to read and that she was too busy to pick up a book. I didn't make much of an effort to respond to her, but I wanted to say that if she didn't spend so much time complaining about life she could probably read 2 to 3 books a week."

Priscilla remembered having non-bookie friendís comment similarly. Her response? "I just tell them I don't watch much TV. Thank goodness my really best friends read as much as I do and they understand me perfectly. It always amazes me how much easier it is to talk to my bookie friends. So much more interesting."

Carolina Louise doesn't much like the implication from non-bookies that she's wasting her time reading when she could be doing something more worthwhile. She usually tells them that, "everybody, including myself, is busy regardless if they work, go to school, and/or have families, etc., but I enjoy reading and I make the time!"

Several readers agreed with AAR Editor Ellen's (me too!) assessment of an old Twilight Zone's episode starring Burgess Meredith as being one of the most frightening ever. Burgess plays a man with coke-bottle glasses whom, after a nuclear holocaust, is finally left alone in the world with nothing between he and the books at the library, which also survived the blast. Unfortunately, his glasses break and he's left unable to read. Horror of horrors! Shudder of shudders!

Jennifer remembered her parents discouraging her from reading because they worried that too much would ruin her vision. She wrote, "My mom would make me go outside to play!" She also wrote fondly about "pretending to be asleep when my parents came upstairs to check on me well after my bedtime. I had shoved my hardback copy of Cinderella under my pillow, snapped off the light, and squeezed my eyes shut. Okay, so now I know I never fooled them."

So many of you posted about your own recollections of falling in love with reading that it's very difficult to point to just a few. We'll close this subject now with the lengthy but delightful remembrances of Anne Louise:

"The first memory I have of the joy a book could bring was when I was around five years old. My mother read me and my older brother and my younger sister a book called The Little Lame Prince. She would read us a couple of chapters a day, by the time she got half way through the book the only one still listening was me. To this day I still remember the magic of that book. A few months ago I asked my mother if she could remember the name of the book because I was trying to find the it to read to my children and thought I might have the title wrong. Since it was well over thirty years ago she couldn't remember.

"A week or so after this conversation I was reading the line up for our city's theatre production and one of the plays they were doing was The Little Lame Prince - and it was based on the book I had read as a child. I've gotten tickets for the whole family to go. Once I discovered the magic I started to read on my own. Nancy Drew, The Bobsy Twins, and the book I read over and over - Anne of Green Gables. I was given an adult library card early because I was reading adult novels when I was 10 or eleven. At the library I explored Victoria Holt, Barbara Cartland, Mary Stewart and still one of my favorites today, Dick Francis. I saw Dick Francis interviewed on TV and realized he was in his seventies. I had been reading him for almost thirty years and was glad I hadn't reread any of the older ones because when he retires or dies I'll start from the beginning and reread all those ones I read as a teenager.

"I discovered romance books when I was in the hospital as a thirteen-year-old and someone brought me in a big bag of series romances. I love all kinds of books and often give them as presents to nieces or nephews. One of my sisters's who I read to when we were children has turned into an adult reader, my youngest sister has always loved books. I get great joy introducing them to some of my best-loved authors such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Janet Evanovich and the best of Linda Howard and Sandra Brown.

"Of course, my children have been surrounded by books and reading since they could remember, and are as dangerous in a bookstore as their mother. This Christmas I will be buying my oldest her own copy of Anne of Green Gables - I can't wait for her to discover the magic between the covers. I guess that is what so great about sites such as this one, to share the joy of reading with people that understand how wonderful it is to read a really good book."

A Year of Romance Reading:
In the past twelve months, I read more than 50 1999-published romances. I also read about thirty romances that were from earlier years, as well as a smattering of non-genre fiction. I've already got a few titles to recommend for the year 2000, one of which I mentioned last time out. Once a Pirate by Susan Grant is lots of fun - my review will be online in January (it's a February release). Two other books to look for are Prince Charming by Gaelen Foley (look for my review in January of this February release) and The Courtship by Catherine Coulter. This is her best book in years as far as I'm concerned.

Last year I began to read more older romances than I had before. This trend continued in 1999. Many of the older romances I read were MIRA reissues as single title contemporaries of older series romances by Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, and Elizabeth Lowell. I also picked up loads of series titles (both old and new/new-ish), by such authors as Merline Lovelace, Ruth Wind, Donna Kauffman, Beverly Barton, Elizabeth Bevarly, Peggy Webb, and Leanne Banks. Some of these gloms were fairly successful, to varying degrees. Others were not. Beverly Barton's style is not a good one for me, I've discovered, and, my glom of Peggy Webb was a tremendous flop. After having read and found Angels on Zebras to be a guilty pleasure, I read its out-and-out horrible prequel, Bringing Up Baxter. But, partly because they're-easy-to-read-because-they-are-so-fast, and partly because I hoped Baxter was a fluke, I ended up reading four more UBS-purchased Webb's this year. Turns out Zebras was the fluke - I think the highest grade I gave those other Webb's was a C, and that was probably being generous.

My favorite author of all time, Kathryn Lynn Davis, came out in 1999 with the third book in her historical fiction trilogy, Somewhere Lies the Moon. While it didn't replace her Too Deep for Tears (the first book in that trilogy) as my favorite book of all time, it was truly a magnificent read. I must have cried nearly solidly for five hours reading it, and stayed up all night long to finish the book. I realize that's rather an odd recommendation, but for me, this author simply sings.

Four 1999-published books earned Desert Isle Keeper Status from me: Davis' Moon, Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn, and Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts. While I wish I'd read even more books of this caliber, I'm satisfied with four. Especially when I consider that none of the 1999-published romances I read earned a grade of F from me. One 1999-published book sent to us by a publisher that was not a romance but did earn a F from me was Marsha Goldhirsh's Butterflies. Butterflies didn't waft gently through the air - it sank like a stone. If the author's goal was to create a world of meaningless amorality and a complete lack of warmth, she succeeded mightily. And, there's no good explanation for why I bought the Sips of Blood, a vampire novel starring the Marquis de Sade. But then again, there's no good explanation why the author wrote it - it read as though it were written purely to be degenerate.

When I look at my year in general, the prognosis was very good for romances published in 1999. Very nearly one-half of the romances I read were of B- through A- quality. Slightly more than a third were romances I considered more or less average. Less than two in ten were romances I found to be below average.

Last year I reminded everyone that the release dates for books was generally a month ahead of their publish dates. That has changed over the past year. Last year, most books released in December had January 1999 pub dates. This year it's not nearly so simple. Many of the publishers have gone to "real time" releasing so that if a book is released in December 1999, it may very well have a pub date of 1999. In the long run, I think that's a great thing, but for those of us who have gotten used to the old and convoluted system, it's a change that's sometimes hard to remember.

Please try, though, or else what we're going to get into next won't work the right way. And that is, of course, the 1999 All About Romance Reader Awards. First I'll lay out my own choices, and later I'll ask you fill out a ballot of your own.

This year it's been more difficult than in past years for me to fill out a ballot. I've been thinking about this for days now, and I'm drawing blanks in many categories. In one category, oddly enough, my choice is a book I graded as a solid B rather than another book which earned a grade of B+ from me. I think the latter was better written, but I enjoyed the former more. Huh?!? Has that ever happened to you?

LLB's Favorites:
Every book on my favorites list received a grade in either the A or B range, but my heart wasn't in some of my selections. The books were good, yes, but they didn't always truly fit the categories. This has never happened to me before, let me know if this is a problem for you when it's time to post to the message board. In some instances, I've fudged on the category. Somewhere Lies the Moon is historical fiction rather than historical romance, but since Davis' books are always marketed toward the romance market, it takes the prize as my Most Hanky Read. And, my choice for Favorite Romantic Suspense is more of a romance/mystery than a heart-pounding romantic thriller. While last year I thought I might expand my horizons and read more romantic suspense, I've discovered I don't really like them - they are far too gory for me.

I think the hardest category for me this year was for Most Tortured Hero For the longest time, my definition of a tortured hero was one who tortured those around him. Well, searching through all my 1999-published books, I couldn't find one fitting this definition that I liked well enough to bestow upon him this title. So I thought about the heroes who had been through the most, had been tortured the most by circumstances, and forgot about whether he tortured others or tortured himself. That's how I came up with J.D. Grayson from Father to Be. It was a close call, frankly, between he and Jackson Puller from Neesa Hart's A Kiss to Dream On, but he was too "beta" for me, and, as I said in my review, was a bit too good to be true.

I've also made some slight changes to the ballot form this year. The Road Romance category is now the Cabin or Road Romance category, and there are some new categories as well.

Favorite RomanceLady Be GoodSEP
Favorite Funny Lady Be GoodSEP
Most Hanky ReadSomewhere Lies the MoonKathryn Lynn Davis
Most Luscious
Love Story
Portrait of My HeartPatricia Cabot
Most Tortured HeroJ.D. GraysonFather to BeMarilyn Pappano
Feistiest HeroineAllieTo Kiss a TexanJodi Thomas
Favorite HeroCutter TateThe Secrets of Sadie MaynardLinda Anderson
Favorite HeroineMaggiePortrait of My HeartPatricia Cabot
Favorite CoupleJames Sidwell/
Elizabeth Hotchkiss
How to Marry a MarquisJulia Quinn
Favorite VillainGerald and FrederickScandalous SecretsPatricia Oliver
Most Annoying Hero
or Heroine
Calandra LockeThe Scoundrel's VowSherri Browning
Best Cabin or
Road Romance
His Wicked WaysSamantha James
Best New Authornone
Best New DiscoveryMarilyn Pappano
Author Most Glommed Linda Howard
Favorite MedievalHis Wicked WaysSamantha James
Favorite Regency RomanceScandalous SecretsPatricia Oliver
Favorite Eur. HistoricalHow to Marry a MarquisJulia Quinn
Favorite Amer. Historical The Doctor's WifeCheryl St. John
Favorite Contemp.Jewels of the SunNora Roberts
Favorite Rom. Susp.Secrets of Sadie MaynardLinda Anderson
Favorite "Other" RomanceEnchantedNora Roberts
Author You Gave Up OnPeggy Webb
Author Others Love
That You Don't
Catherine Anderson
Most Disappointing Read Strangers at DawnElizabeth Thornton
Worst Romance The MacKenzie's: JakeAna Leigh
Purple-est Prose Beyond the Highland MistKaren Marie Moning

One thing seems clear from my choices - I didn't read a lot of the books many of you read in 1999. Many of the books I hear about online don't appeal to my "peasant" tastes in romance reading, and so I haven't read them. I believe most online romance readers prefer more of the "high end" romances than I do. Sometimes I fear I have more in common with the typical Cassie Edwards fan that I'd like to think I do, except, of course, that I don't like Cassie Edwards. With the exception of SEP's Lady Be Good, Quinn's How to Marry a Marquis, and Nora Roberts' Jewels of the Sun, I'm fairly certain most of the books I considered best this year won't be those you considered best - we probably didn't even read many of the same books. And, the book I considered my biggest disappointment, Thornton's Strangers at Dawn, is one I know many of you thoroughly enjoyed.

Still, I love sharing my choices with you and, even more, hearing your own selections. So, send in your ballots by January 31, 2000. Let the battle begin! And, Happy Holidays!

Time to Post to the Message Board:

Because we are at year's end, and because of the holidays and how busy everyone is, I won't lay out too many topics. Mainly, I would like you all to send in your ballots for the 1999 All About Romance Reader Awards. You may vote between now and January 31, 2000.

But, in addition, since those choices won't be made known until mid-February, 2000, I'd like to hear about how 1999 fared for you in terms of reading, and romance reading particular.

  • Did you read mostly new releases, older releases, or some mixture of the two?

  • Were some categories more difficult for you to select for this year in our ballot?

    • If so, is this a signal of something going on in yourself or in the genre? If the latter, is that perhaps an ominous sign?

  • Do you think online readers, as a whole, are representative of most romance readers? Do you have "peasant" tastes in romance reading or are you a more "high end" romance reader?
  • Have you ever read two books and enjoyed both, but found you liked the "better written" one less than the other?

  • Have you found your tastes changing this year? Are you reading more contemporaries, historicals, series romances, romantic suspense? If the answer is yes, to what do you attribute these changes?

Feel free to comment about any/all of these questions, or anything else related to your year in reading. And, if you need help defining glom for your ballot, glomming refers to that habit romance readers have of buying up backlists for authors they've come to love.

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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