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Hi friends! We’re back with a special reader guest post! Yes! Can you believe it’s the third Saturday of the month?! Eek! I can’t! I always tell people I have the best blog readers – and I firmly believe that. Pam sometimes visits here, and she is definitely a great example. I’d love to feature more of you! Anyway, here’s Pam! (And, I’m going to be a massive jerk and hijack her post for a minute – I’ve actually been on hiatus-ish since the beginning of August. I’ve gotten thousands of emails, and have still over 1,000 unread right now. I know I owe a lot of people responses, and more importantly prizes – and I’m doing my best to get on that. Please continue to be patient, and accept my apologies!)

… And now I must apologize to Pam for being all “me me me” – luckily, she like the rest of you, is awesome, and I’m sure she understands. So without further ado, meet an awesome member of the romance community! A reader! ❤

Hello everyone! First let me just say thank you to Lime for taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity to write a post for her blog.

My name is Pam, although I tend to go by the username VanillaOrchids online. Until sometime in 2009, I didn’t like reading. I rarely ever read a book just for the fun of it. That was until I read the Twilight Saga series by Stephenie Meyer. You see, two of my sisters and two of my nephews and I went to see the movie Twilight when it was released. The movie was okay, nothing spectacular. I enjoyed it for what it was. While the credits were rolling, my sister Linda proceeded to tell me that the movie is based off of a book and the book is way better. Then she offered to give me all four of the books in the series to read.

Fast forward about six months. The power went out because of a storm so I thought I’d give one of the books Linda gave me a try. Well, she had given me two books from the Vampire Diaries series as well, and since those books were smaller reads than the Twilight books, I started with one of those first. I probably didn’t get five pages into it before I said forget it! It’s been so long since then, but from what I remember, I felt that the Vampire Diaries book was written for little kids. I found it childish. Because of that, I gave all of the books (including the Twilight books) to my sister Patty in case she wanted to read them. Patty couldn’t go the Vampire Diaries books either but she did start on Twilight. So then one day while she was still working on Twilight she tells me that it isn’t like the Vampire Diaries books and that she thought I’d like Twilight. When she was finished with it, she gave it back to me. I had it done in two days and wanted book 2 … like now! LOL Patty gave me book two though she wasn’t finished reading it, but she knew that I’d have it read quick enough. I had all four books read in a week.

I didn’t know what to do with myself then. I wanted more to read but didn’t have anything. Eventually I started buying books on eBay or in stores. There probably hasn’t been a day that’s gone by since then that I’ve not been reading. Then late last year I had created a blog, more for myself really, to keep track of books that I wanted to read or have read, my favorite authors, etc. Then when I started to write book reviews, I decided to use the blog for that instead. That’s also about the time that I paid attention to other people’s reviews of books that I was interested in reading.

Recently I started reading a series of historical romances. After I finished the second book in the series, I went to Goodreads to mark the book as finished. While there I saw a one star review for the book that I’d just read. Here I was thinking the book was good. One of things that the person mentioned was the historical inaccuracies within the book. I’m sure the author did plenty of research and knows a lot about the time period, but in my opinion, it’s a work on fiction, it doesn’t have to be so strict with the historical details. But that’s just my opinion. And the primary complaint was that in that time a woman would not be without a chaperone. That might be true but can you really write an interesting love story when the two main characters never have a moment alone to be steal a kiss or a touch? Ah well, what do I know, I’m not a writer. 🙂

So anyway, I’m just happy that I now have a love of reading. And maybe with time I’ll get better at reviewing books. As for the whole blogging thing, I doubt that my book blog will ever really take off, and I’m fine with that. It’s a place for me to post reviews or graphics (which is another hobby of mine) or whatever I feel like. I don’t ever want it to feel like a job. I’ve known all too well what that’s like since I’ve had a website online for nearly 15 years now.

One last thing while I’m here. Awhile back on my blog I asked people for book recommendations. Not one person posted any. LOL So if Lime doesn’t mind, I’d like to ask the visitors here what book(s) you recommend? In return, I’m offering one winner an ebook of their choice (up to $5) from Amazon.

Thanks again to Lime for allowing me to ramble on for a bit. 🙂

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Hi Friends! This post has been a long time coming. Ms. SonomaLass was actually supposed to take place last year, but SL actually had wrist surgery, so we rescheduled. So everyone give her a warm welcome! She has a really interesting post with a question I’d love to hear you answer too.

Last month over on my blog, I reviewed Robin Lee Hatcher’s Kiss Me, Katie for the TBR Challenge. The thing that everyone who commented, either on the blog or Twitter, seemed to find most interesting was that this book was rewritten and re-released by the author eight years after it was originally published. Hatcher shifted to publishing with a Christian publisher, and she chose to “redeem” (her term) some of her books for that market. The conversation got me thinking, and talking to other readers, about the larger picture of re-released romances and what, if anything, the author does to the book before setting it before a new audience.

Re-issuing books is not a new phenomenon. Nora Roberts’ publishers, for example, love to put out her older titles again (and again), sometimes with new titles and covers, so that she developed the NR logo to distinguish new releases from re-releases. But as digital publishing platforms make it easier and cheaper to get books into the hands of readers, we’re seeing and will continue to see an increase. Authors whose book rights have reverted to them, in particular, can re-package and -release those books, rather than leaving them to the used book market.

An author who chooses to re-release an older work faces choices. She needs a new cover, for one thing; cover art and cover copy usually belong to the original publisher. And depending on the age of the book, and the author’s own writing habits, she may not have a digital version of the manuscript, which means that one will need to be created. The technology for doing that results in numerous errors, so even a previously proofread and edited book will need to be proofed again. All of that can be outsourced, and the book can then be released in a new edition that is essentially the same as the older one, at least between the “covers,” if that’s what an author wants.

What happens, though, if the author doesn’t want that? If she looks over her older work and cringes, seeing how much better (in her own mind, anyway) she’s become as a writer? Or what if editorial decisions were made about the book that she wasn’t happy with, or the author has become aware of errors she made when writing the book? Should the author release the book “as is,” or rather, “as was”? Or should she rewrite/revise/improve it?

Most authors seem to be happy just releasing the books repackaged but not revised; this is the logical economic choice, because the time spent revising the older book would be time taken away from writing a new one, and it represents even more investment (cover art and proofreading aren’t cheap services) that needs to be recouped to make the re-released title profitable. And most readers seem fine with that; as long as they know they are buying an older book, they tend to be reasonably forgiving if it isn’t quite what they’re used to from the author more recently. I admit, I’m interested in the exceptions to that.

One exception, of course is Hatcher — she says on her web site that “Many of my earlier novels contain elements that are contrary to what I hope to share with readers today.” She goes on to say, “I have “redeemed” some of my earlier fiction, giving them a second chance to become the books I wish I’d written the first time around.” While Hatcher’s case is an extreme one, I wonder how many other authors will take the opportunity of re-release to make the books ones they “wish” they’d written.

Another exception is Pamela Clare, whose perspective is the opposite. Her second historical romance, Carnal Gift (2004), was cut by 100 pages to fit the publisher’s length requirements. When her rights reverted in late 2010, she says on her blog, “I was so excited because it meant that for the first time I would be able to share with you the story I had written. The story that was published has never felt like my books. How could it with more than 20 percent of the pages gone?” Her approach was simple: “I opened up the original, uncut manuscript, gave it a fresh edit, and made it available to my readers as an ebook.” Clare’s “author’s cut” is, in her mind, the book she DID write the first time around.

Clare and Hatcher are both pretty straightforward with their readers about their changes; Hatcher changed the title to Catching Katie, while Clare clearly identifies the new version of Carnal Gift as the “author’s cut.” I think that’s very important, so that readers know they’re getting a different book. Of course the work is the author’s, and she has every right to make changes, but I do think it’s good to be clear with readers about the differences between older and newer editions.

Just as I’d be troubled by a freshly edited re-release that wasn’t clearly labeled as such, I don’t like it when an older title is released without being clearly identified as such. If readers are mostly pretty understanding about the differences they’ll encounter in an older book, they might be upset to purchase a “new” title by a favorite author, only to find that it’s a re-released title.  One recent example I encountered (hardly unusual) is Barbara Hambly’s Open Road Media re-release, Bride of the Rat God. When I received it for review, I didn’t know that it had originally been published in 1994, and it wasn’t clear in the edition I received. I mentioned it to a friend who recognized the title, and a quick look at reviews on the book’s Amazon page confirmed it, but it still wasn’t mentioned in the book’s description.

So what do other readers think? Do you want authors to revise their backlist works before re-releasing, or would you rather read the book “as was”? Have you had any surprises, pleasant or otherwise, now that there are so many re-releases available digitally?  I’ve just scratched the surface with these examples, and I think it’s a really interesting aspect of where we are in publishing today.

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Hey you guys! The very fun and special Annette C is wrapping up my birthday month! (I mean, come on, she’d be special if for no other reason than she’s here on the last day of June, right?) 😉 I “met” Annette on twitter way back when, and she’s always been incredibly nice and super sweet. I got to meet her in person at RT10, and she’s basically the reason I attended the conference.

Fun, right?! So now I’ve dragged her out of hiding (she’s been on a hiatus of sorts) and here she is, sharing with all of us! So let’s give her a warm welcome. 

I have an addiction… To series’ reading.  When Lime reminded me I promised her this, I racked my brain thinking over and over about all the things I read, what should I discuss, what would others find interesting… or agree with… Ok, perhaps even just understand without thinking I am a nutter ;). Everything kept coming back to the fact that most of what I read are series’. I love them, am totally addicted to them.

I have the complete Harry Potter series, hard covers, first edition.  I was one of those you would hear moaning and groaning on twitter about just. How. Long. Two years is when waiting for the final book in Karen Marie Monings Fever series…. I was also one of those you saw happy dancing all over the Internet when the day finally came that it was released. I utterly refuse to start a series unless I have all of them that are published to date. Refuse to read a book, even if I am half way through it, as soon as I find out its a series.  I will put it down, set it aside and start ruthlessly gathering the rest. Craziness right?

But c’mon. How can you not love a series! Jude Deveraux has so many amazing ones, I wouldn’t even know where to start… But I know that every time I re-pick up one of her series, I truly feel as though I have come home to visit old friends. Christine Feehan… Have mercy. Imagine putting down Dark Prince, never to have another carpathian to drool… I mean, meet :).  Devastating!  What makes it even better is the fact that throughout most series’ you get visits from old friends from earlier in the series. Even with spin offs! I would be so upset if Katie MacAlister never let us know what antics Jim the demon dog was up to. Like, seriously upset… I really do love that dang demon dog.

There are so many more things that I could list spouting my love for series, but then I do believe I would be rambling… So, though I have listed some of my favorite series’, I will close by listing a couple more.

Donna Grants’ Highlanders… O.m.G… Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson, Sharon Sala & Heather Graham (ok, seriously just read them, anything by them… Everything by them) Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas…  Elisabeth Naughton, Alyson Noel, Jennifer Estep, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, James Michener…

Oops, what was that I said about not rambling… Sadly this isn’t even an 1/8th of my favorites… So if you haven’t read these yet, run … run and get every one of them, because they are just *that* awesome.  So… Enquiring minds and all… What are your favorite series’?

Erm and… *angelface* I might have chosen random covers from series, just because. >.> Hope Nettie’s head doesn’t explode… ;X
And on a personal note, a huge, heartfelt thank you to Annette for her patience. We’ll all pretend this went up at the normal time, shall we? And cross out fingers July is better while letting out a breath of thanksgiving that June is ending.

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Carrie swore up and down she’d have all the html perfect, so I’m not going to needle her too much about stuff 😉 – especially since it was her birthday yesterday. So, anyway, guest post! Go! And remember to wish Ms. Carrie a very happy [belated] birthday! 😀

Thanks Lime for letting me guest on your blog today!  It’s quite the
honor, and well worth the year wait 🙂
Many of you probably don’t know me, after all my blog, Seductive Musings, is relatively small and I don’t really do Twitter, or Facebook, nor do I hold big fancy contests giving away e-readers and such.  I just blog about romance books that I am interested in and like to talk about with my virtual “friends” (ie blog readers).  Occasionally I have thoughts I like to share with anyone who happens to want to read it, like today’s post.  If I bore you incessantly, apologies, feel free to skip to the end and just say hello, LOL.
Today I thought I would share with you my thoughts about the “free” read.  Many publishers and authors like to offer free digital books, novellas and short stories to readers as a way to entice readers to buy more from that author.  Frankly, I think this is brilliant!  Because really, who doesn’t like something for free, especially a great book?  And therein lies the catch.  In order for this marketing tool to really be effective (ie sales of more books) the freebie has to be an excellent representation of what that author or publisher is trying to get us to buy more of.   “Excellent representation” being the key words.Caution:  Here lies manypitfalls, perils, and dangers!  A free read is a great way to test drive a new to you author, and unfortunately I don’t think that very important fact that this may be a readers first introduction to an author is taken into consideration often enough.Let me share with you a few of my free read experiences…some of which were great, others were complete disasters, and maybe the worst scenario, a not so good free read for a fantastic author.

One of the first free reads I came across was Anne Stuart’s The Wicked House of Rohan.  I had just read Ruthless and found out that Rohan was a free prequel to the book I had just read.  I really enjoyed Ruthless and wanted more, so I was eager to read Rohan.  However, Rohan, IMO was a complete mess.  I actually really disliked it.  The story was kind of all over the place, and way too short, created more questions, than answers (and not in a good way that would make you want to read the upcoming books in the series, but to avoid them at all costs kind of way).  This was a free read disaster for both me and the author.  It’s time I could have better spent on other things, and was not a good representation of the type of story I knew the author could tell.  If I had read The Wicked House of Rohan first, I never would have read anything else by this author.  To this day I’ve not read another of her books.  So there you go.

A free read that I also thought was a failure, was Lorelei James’ Slow Ride.  And unlike the previous book, it’s not because the story was bad, in fact I actually loved it because it was a snippet into the lives of characters that I had already come to love.  That, right there was the problem with this short story as a free read.  It was written as a freebie for readers of the already well established Rough Riders series, not any reader who may happen upon the free read.   If you didn’t already know the characters, then more than likely you wouldn’t connect with the characters since you learned very little about them, just a moment from their lives.  Which makes this book as a free read, a complete and utter failure.  The writing was good (as always), but it didn’t present this series in a favorable light, which is why I thing the book suffered in the Amazon reviews, and it made me sad
because Ms. James is one of my all time favorite authors!  Hands down,
I will buy whatever she writes because I know it will be good.  But if I
was a reader who had never read one of her books….then Slow Ride
wouldn’t necessarily make me want to buy more of her work because there was little to no character development.  Slow Ride would have been much better as a free read on the author’s site, or newsletter as a “thank you” to fans of the series, instead of a possible introduction to the series, which is what many of the free reads are to readers.

Now I’d like to share two free reads that I thought were very effective because it made me want to read more by the author.  The first is All’s Fair In Love & Seduction by Beverley Kendall.  I don’t know if she wrote this as a free read to promote the rest of the books in her Elusive Lords series, but if she did then I give her big kudo’s because All’s Fair didn’t read like a “freebie”, but just a great story that happened to have been free.  And it also made me want to pay to read the rest of the books in this series.  Brilliant!  And exactly what a free read should do if you are using it as a marketing tool.

The second book that was fabulous freebie (unfortunately it’s not free any longer) was Sweet Release by Pamela Clare.  This book was originally published in print several years ago, then went out of print, and was re-released by the author last year.  And occasionally Ms. Clare will have this book, or one of her others, as free reads, which is how I first read it.  I think this is the best type of free read.  It’s a book that was never written to be a free read, it’s just a great story that happened to be offered for free.  I know there have to be many readers, like myself, who send many many thanks to Ms. Clare…not necessarily for the free read,  but for the opportunity to discover her books.  I think she is an AMAZING author that I might have missed out on if it had not been for a free read.  I have purchased all of her backlist, and even purchased and given a few of her books away on my blog as gifts, resulting in countless other sales I’m sure (because they are that addictively good).  Right there, is why free reads are so powerful.

I know some of you may not agree with this, but if the free read ain’t great, then there is no way I am going to spend any of my hard earned, and very limited book buying money on anything else by that author!  It is why picking the right story for a free read is extremely important.   Because if I don’t already read your books, you have one chance with me with that free read.  I think the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is very appropriate in this instance.  Otherwise it’s sayonara, unless of course a book comes to me highly recommended by someone I trust to have similar romance reading tastes as mine, like Lime.  I know I can’t be the only one who does this, and I often wonder if I’ve missed out on some great reads because of this standard.  If I would have read Lorelei James’ free read first, before any of her other books, I really doubt I would have sought out her books.  As a result I would have missed out on one of my favorite authors.  Scary.
While there are many pitfalls, perils, and dangers associated with a free read, it can also hold a tremendous amount of power, and this is why the idea of the free read is brilliant….I just wish that a free read meant a good read 🙂  Here’s my motto for free reads…”if your gonna make it free, make it good!”   Ah, my own little Romance reading utopia, LOL.  Since that world doesn’t exist it’s back to reality. I thought I would share with you some current free reads on Amazon that have promise of being good reads…

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Have you had some crash and burn free reads, or did you discover a now favorite author with a free read?  If so, what were they? And have you read a free read by an author that you love, but didn’t so much care for the free read?  I’d be really interested to find that out as well. That way I can either avoid them, and commiserate with you, or we can dish about favorite free reads and if I get lucky maybe even find a few to add to my TBR 🙂
Have a great rest of the weekend and thanks for sticking with me!

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Another Saturday in June, another special reader guest post! (Confused? It’s explained here.) I “met” Stacy on twitter, and then in person at the Reader Author Get Together in 2010. She adores giving me a hard time… but I like her anyway. ;P

Hi all.  My name is Stacy and I am a life-long romance reader.  The devious, er, lovely! Limecello here asked me about a million years ago to write up a post.  It’s finally time to pay the piper.  So here goes…..

I started reading teen romances probably around 8 or 9 years old, and eventually graduated to my mom’s adult romances soon thereafter.  See, like most of us, I was always an insatiable reader, glomming everything in writing from magazines and books, to cereal and Kleenex boxes that told brief stories.  I grew up in the country and did not have easy access to a library, but we did have the book mobile that showed up every week or so, and when I ran out of books to read between visits, I would sneak my mom’s “grown-up” books, thinking she didn’t have a clue.  But of course she did, she knew just about everything (like the time me and my brothers started setting fires…but that’s way off-topic) yet obviously didn’t feel they were risque enough to keep away from me.  However, thinking back to some of those scandalous passages, I would say they make even some of today’s stories pale in comparison.  It was one hell of an education.  I distinctly remember one story that involved a cucumber and- ahem! I digress.  (Though I wonder whatever happened to that book….)

Anyway, I read romances for a variety of reasons.  I think stories about relationships can be the most complex, and the most interesting.  People are fascinating, and watching two dynamic characters dramatically fall in love amidst a zombie apocalypse or slowly yet engagingly transform from friends into lovers in a quaint small town is actually quite wonderful.  Nothing can beat that.

One thing I really enjoy about romances is that, in the 25+ years I’ve been reading them, the storylines have evolved tremendously.  Back in the 80’s, the majority of the books, whether they were historicals or contemporaries, almost always had a virginal, naive heroine and a rugged, arrogant hero.  In most cases, there was a significant age difference between the two, generally where the hero was 15-20 years older than our nubile heroine.  And the heroine always ended up being dependent upon the hero to save her from something – a lecherous uncle, war, losing the family home, you name it.  And once all the obstacles were overcome and “twu luv” was realized, the birds sang, the sky was filled with brilliant rainbows, and nowhere on earth was there a greater or stronger love to be found.  Nowadays, romance novels are less fairy tale and more love story.  Women are independent, some older than the hero, almost all able to take care of themselves because they have a working brain, employment, and the confidence and ability to support themselves.  It isn’t about needing a man.  It’s about finding someone who enhances your life.  And perhaps the two get married, or maybe they never even get around to declarations of love.  You just know that by the end of the book, these are two people who have discovered an equal partner, and maybe one they will spend the rest of their life with.  Or not.  And that is quite okay.  Happily Ever After has become Happy For Now.  Not every story needs to be about soulmates.  As I’ve gotten older and collected my own experiences, I am completely open to either of those options.  It’s what makes life exciting.

Another thing I am extremely happy to see is the continued increase in gay romances.  And…it’s about damn time!  Love is love, and I especially enjoy reading romances about two men, especially if it’s two extremely masculine and sexually aggressive men.  Oh baby.  *fans self*  Admittedly, I have not read much lesbian romance, and the reason being is, I confess, I read romance mainly for the drool-worthy men.  But if it’s a compelling story and gets positive feedback from fellow readers, I would love to read it.  In fact I should really make it a point this year to seek them out.  Who know what gems I have been missing because I have been so focused on the guys.  A romantic story, told well, will make my heart flutter, regardless who the characters are.

The last thing I would also like to address about my love of today’s romance books is  the varying levels of sexuality you can find out there in today’s stories.  I admit I like a more sexually explicit storyline.  Other readers prefer less.  Nothing wrong with that at all.   We all have our comfort levels.  The one thing I feel is most important is that others should not be ashamed of their sexuality.  It is not something to ridicule or sneer at.  Case in point: I never thought I would say this, but I actually enjoy reading books with a BDSM theme to them.  And by that, I do not refer to the recent phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, although I know they are quite popular these days, what with local radio personalities sharing passages on the air.  In recent years, through social media and meeting other book lovers, I have actually gotten to know some people who are involved in BDSM relationships.  Some of them have become good friends of mine.  Chicago has quite an active kink community, and in taking the time to educate myself on the lifestyle, I have really come to understand a lot about the dynamics of these relationships, and I have a healthy respect for anyone who exists within a healthy, honest, and consensual partnership.  And because of that, I like knowing there are books out there that appeal to everyone’s personal preference.

The world of romance novels is a vast, complex, interesting and ever-evolving one.  I cannot imagine ever being bored in what this genre – and all the subsequent subgenres attached to it – has to offer to its readership.  In fact I look forward to all the fantastic stories that are yet to be told.  So authors, please, keep on writing.

Sincerely & with much love,

Stacy ~

What are your thoughts? Has your reading journey been anything like Stacy’s? When did you start reading? What are your genres of choice? Got any book recommendations for us? 😀

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You!!! Guys!!! It’s June already! Freaking June and how did this happen?! Well, excuse me while I go have my little melt down at the year being half over. … Okay. Well, June is also my birthday month. (Whee!) So it’s extra packed with… the usual stuff but plus because it’s my birthday, okay?!

Anyway, every Tuesday we’ll be having a Guest Author & A Giveaway post. Every Thursday we’ll be having a Teaser Tuesday post. (Yeah, Thursdays become Tuesdays here on the blog in June. Deal.) And every Saturday, we have our special reader guest(s) sharing their Reader Post! Whee!

Here we’re starting out with a bang courtesy of dynamic duo Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane!

4 Things Heidi and Violetta Love (and Hate) in a Hero

Hi! We’re Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, a couple of co-writers from opposite ends of North America. Like all writers, though, we’re also readers, and we’re here today in that capacity, talking about what qualities we like and dislike in romance heroes. Between the two of us, we read M/F, M/M, and M/M/F, so there should be a little something here for everybody!

Four Loves. By Heidi, who is a part-time sparkle princess.

He has a sense of humor

Click your average online dating profile and it’s the number one thing people are looking for in a partner and it’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want a lover who makes them happy, and what better way to make someone happy than to make them laugh? But it’s more than just finding your very own stand-up comedian, or a guy who has to get his witty two cents in on everything no matter who it hurts or embarrasses. Sense of humor isn’t just telling jokes, it’s a way of looking at life, an optimism, an ability to find joy in things or lighten a bad mood. How about Jason Segel, who has an unrelenting optimism and a charming ability to laugh at himself? Jon Stewart or Dave Chapelle, who can take depressing realities and make them palatable, even when the humor’s dark? Of course, your mileage may vary on who or what you find funny, but no matter your personal taste, a guy who can laugh at the world and himself can really lift your spirits.

Who’s funny:

Matt Lovell, from Josephine Myles’s free short Pole Star (M/M). Matt’s story could easily be the set-up for a moody drama: an injured male stripper in the emergency room meets a cute radiographer and is ashamed to admit to his real career but feels torn up about lying. Rather than going angsty with it, though, this story is all about the humor of this situation, starting with the fact that although Matt’s passing as a firefighter thanks to his stage costume, he knows the game will be up if anyone discovers his pants are the tearaway kind. The humor of this story could be mean-spirited, but it’s not, thanks to Matt’s charming, self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s a warm, human slice-of-life story that’s genuinely funny to read.

He challenges traditional ideas of masculinity

In M/F, Alpha Males are all the rage, and in M/M readers are constantly praising “real men” and coming up with often-hurtful standards of who gets to claim that title. But let’s give a shout-out to the guys who stretch our understanding of gender, either in how they identify, dress, or even just how they act. This can be as simple as a proud male nurse, as thoughtful as a character whose arc has him choosing not to follow in his father’s macho men-don’t-cry footsteps, or as sexy as a guy willing to experiment with sex roles or wear a little something lacy in the bedroom. Social conditioning is a powerful, pervasive force that starts the minute we’re born, the minute our mom or dad pops us in a pink or blue onesie or buys us a Barbie or a GI Joe. It takes a brave, brave person to push through all that and be the person they know they’re meant to be.

Who’s man enough to cry:

Silvio Spadaro from Dark Soul by Aleksandr Voinov (M/M & M/M/F). Take an emotionally stunted contract killer, living in the hyper-macho world of the mafia. Now make him moonlight as a crossdressing Femme Fatale. Oh yes! It’s just as amazing, sexy, and psychologically complex as it sounds.

He’s resilient

I love me a good tragic past. A dark, mysterious hero with hidden depths of pain and anguish. But what I don’t love is a man paralyzed by it. I know that in the real world, the universe throws things at us that we just can’t handle, and sometimes people succumb to it. But romance isn’t the real world, it’s a fantasy, and while I love the angst of a tragedy, what I need in my hero is a man who can and has overcome. Maybe he hasn’t conquered all his inner demons, but he’s brave enough to face life in spite of them. Or maybe he keeps a sense of humor in the face of personal tragedy. Maybe he did go down some dark spiral at one point in his life, but now he’s picking himself back up and moving forward. How about a hero who’s overcome addiction, or one who takes his struggle with PTSD day by day? When you’ve seen him overcome other obstacles in his life, you can’t help but root for him to succeed in love, too.

Who’s a survivor:

Qiang, from Sharon Cullars’ Gold Mountain (M/F). Here’s a man from a poor fishing family who survives a horrific childhood accident, makes his way from China to 19th-century America, gets employed in the most dangerous job in the country (blasting holes in the mountain to build tunnels for the railway), has a racist white posse out to kill him and his African-American lover… and this is all before he gets involved with a murderous Triad gang. He handles it all with a heroic stoicism that’s also totally believable; we see how much it hurts and daunts him, and the points at which he could have given up. But he doesn’t.

He’s extraordinary

In one way or another, heroes are more than your average schmo. They’re bigger, badder, broodier, funnier, richer, smarter… you get the idea. Now, there’s something to be said for average: a decent looking guy with an unremarkable job, who’s good at a few things and kind of inept at most others, who can answer 1 out of 5 questions on Jeopardy, run a half-marathon, but can’t parallel park. But I already married him. Not that I won’t read romances about average guys, but above-average has its appeal, too. I’m happy with the guy-next-door, but the Old Spice guy gets my motor running too, and since I can have the guy-next-door in real life, I’ve learned to really appreciate the Old Spice guy and his motorcycle hot tub in my romance novels. Think Moulin Rouge: sure we know it’s a gross exaggeration and that the reality could be just as romantic, but the fact that it’s so Out There just enhances and adds to the escapism of the reading (or viewing) experience.

Who’s larger-than-life:

Jerricho Z. Barrons from Karen Marie Moening’s Fever series (M/F). I imagine that Jerricho is a hate him or love him kind of character, although I’m firmly on the side of love. But it’s easy to see why he could be polarizing: he doesn’t do anything halfway. He’s immortal! He’s racially ambiguous! He has an unknown accent! He owns a sprawling rare book store! He goes to exclusive clubs! He has a massive collection of expensive cars! He’s acerbic and intelligent and sexy and he has tattoos! And the more outrageous he gets, the more compelling (in a guilty pleasure kinda way, admittedly) he becomes.

Five Hates. Violetta did “Hate” because she’s older and grumpier.

He’s snobby

When it comes to politics, I’m somewhere slightly to the right of Karl Marx. And although I understand how easy it is to divorce real life beliefs and fictional enjoyment, in this area, it’s almost impossible for me. I don’t like kings and princes. I stopped reading almost all high fantasy decades ago (a genre I used to breathe like atmosphere) because I got sick of all the kings and princes. I can read some aristocratic settings, but only if they’re not presented too positively. I loved the French movie Ridicule, for example, and I find Game of Thrones somewhat watchable only because all the nobility are total psychopaths.

I automatically dislike noble heroes—historical, fantastic, or contemporary—and that goes for special-snowflake Chosen Ones too. Any dude who thinks an accident of birth makes him awesome by default is a snob for me, and unsympathetic… unless they get taken waaaay down and humanized.

He has an incongruously plot-convenient sexuality

I love MMF but I’m very picky about it. One trope that I avoid like the plague is the one where two men who are presented as already being in a monogamous, happy, stable relationship inexplicably decide they need a woman to “complete them”. I need some semblance of psychological reality, I don’t find that realistic in the slightest, and in fact it strikes me as… icky.

Menage stories ideally thrive on complicated sexuality. Flattening out sexuality issues via Soulmates! or Completion! hammer ruins everything for me. If a hero has a sexuality that comes straight out of nowhere, I stop believing in them as a character, and they start to resemble a Ken doll instead. If I’m reading most contemporaries, I want to see men struggling with their GFY or OFY or BFY (bisexual for you). Homophobia (and biphobia) doesn’t ever need to take center stage, but I don’t like it handwaved, either, unless it’s in keeping with a tone where other negative social forces are handwaved. And if I’m reading science fiction, I want to understand how sexual socialization has evolved and how the hero fits in (or doesn’t fit in). If it’s the 51st century and everybody’s doing everybody, awesome! Though maybe our hero has a smidgen of angst on account of being a closet monosexual…

One book I loved that doesn’t do this is Amber Green’s Steal Away. Two men, one very bisexual and the other one very gay, end up in a relationship with a woman, and it’s not instant happy happy sandwich time, and no one’s sexuality flies out the window—it’s complicated, and therefore, fascinating.

He has no friends or family

Research has shown that men tend to drop social connections once they’re in long-term relationships with women, whereas women maintain them. So when their respective partners die, men tend to be more psychologically adrift than women, more isolated and depressed.

Maybe I’m weird and morbid, but I think about that a lot. So I like reading about heroes who have healthy friendships and family connections. I like mysterious loners too, but I pull for them to develop camaraderie and belonging. If the hero gets in a relationship with a woman and the story is just the two of them wrapped up in each other, I get a sense of claustrophobia and wonder how their HEA is really ever going to be happy in the long term… and if he’ll cling and cling until he smothers her.

I’m not talking about the no-female-friends sports-and-poker bros-before-hos kind of socialization. I just like for them to be able to make human connections outside of the relationship.

He’s patronizing

Smug and patronizing heroes just plain piss me off. And this is a fine line for me, because I do rather enjoy certain narratives where there’s a vast power differential between partners… real or acted.  For example, I like BDSM stories but cannot stand telepathic doms who always know what’s best for the sub.

When it comes to fantasy or paranormal heroes with godlike powers, I much prefer outright antiheroes who are utterly honest about being selfish, amoral bastards out to please themselves first. “I’m only doing this for your own good!” Yeah, fuck you, buddy.

And on that positive note, what are some of your loves and hates?

HeidiBelleau.com
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It’s the third Saturday of the month! And that means we have a special reader guest, here to share her (or his, if/when that happens) thoughts about romance novels, or anything. Stacie’s here with a really interesting topic, so stick around! (Oh also? Stacie is freaking awesome she sent me this post way back in April. April 11, to be exact. We also scheduled this post in like :X January or February of 2011. I had to convince her to be a guest blogger. 😉 Although you might remember her from her 2011 RT Recap!)

Also, both Stacie and I would like to note, that the covers shared here are romances that don’t have thin bashing. They’re books Stacie enjoyed.

Oh No They Didn’t!

THUNK!

That was the sound of a trade paperback being thrown across the room. I don’t think I had ever done such a thing before. After all, a trade paperback isn’t cheap. But I did just that a few months ago.

Why would I do this?

Buckle up, Buttercup. I’m about to rant your pants off.

It is no secret that romances have historically had a problem with body shaming female characters. The majority of that body shaming has been targeted at overweight heroines. During the course of the story the unhappy/unloved/virgin character sheds her shameful pounds and ends up falling madly in love with her hero. Yes, she had to change her appearance to be worthy of the hero. This was very common in older romances.

In the past several years there have been many authors that wrote curvy heroines who were happy with themselves. The heroes who fell for these strong women loved them for their curves. This has been a wonderful way to empower a body type that had been vilified in the past.

Unfortunately, some authors emphasize the hero’s love for the voluptuous heroine by mentioning how disgusted he is by thin women. The words used to describe the thinner body type are almost always negative. Skinny, bony, anorexic (don’t get me started) are some of the adjectives used. The book that I launched across the room had a secondary hero that described thin women as “skeletons with skin.”

Full disclosure time. I am thin. VERY thin. I have body issues like any other woman. Probably more. Paying $15 for a romance that basically tells me I’m disgusting does not make me a happy camper. This isn’t the first time an author has made a crack about my body type but this instance was the most shocking.  It took several days before I could start reading the rest of the book (which I ended up enjoying BTW).

Thin shaming has become more common as the popularity of curvy heroines has grown.  Is it necessary? Do authors need to put thin women down in order to make curvy women better? Why can’t it be okay to be one or the other? Why is one good and the other bad? Authors, if you wouldn’t describe your curvy heroine as portly or rotund then why is it okay to describe the thin character as skinny or bony? All of those adjectives are insulting. You do realize that thin women read romance too, right? Why alienate part of your audience? Why not celebrate all body types?

I had an epiphany about a month ago. I had been on an m/m romance binge and I finally figured out why. I could read an m/m romance without having to keep my guard up. I wasn’t worried that I was going to read something hurtful.  How sad is that?

This is one of my pet peeves in romance lately. What are yours? What would make you so mad that you would turn your book into a projectile? Is there a topic that pushes your buttons?

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