Monday, October 15, 2012

The Keeper Shelf

(Ok, so this is the National Library of Austria, but I like to pretend my library looks like this...)

I saw an article in the USA Today this morning (say what you will, but they are great with dealing with the romance market), where favorite authors discussed the books that are on their Keeper Shelves.  And having recently re-organized my book shelves (they were about to declare mutiny!), I got to wondering, not only what I had on my Keeper Shelf (Shelves!), but what exactly constituted a Keeper….
I think that the books we really love call to a part of ourselves, either as readers or as individuals, and become a part of us, as well.  Some Keepers call to the most fundamental parts of you—the liver or the skin, for example—while some call to the more subjective parts of what makes you an individual—your eyes, your brain, your fingerprints.   Here were some of the titles I was pondering, but I’d love to hear some of yours, as well!

Master of Darkness, Susan Sizemore
This was the first book I ever read from the “romance” section of the library—while I had always been drawn to love stories, this was the first time where that story was the primary focus of the book.  In this quirky, engrossing book, Eden Faveau, the newest generation of a family of vampire hunters, mistakes Laurent for her vampire contact in a plot to bring down Justinian, the nastiest and most powerful of the evil vampires in her world.  Laurent isn’t about to argue, as he has recently stolen Justinian’s laptop and desperately needs the time and protect Eden unwittingly offers in order to decrypt the information he needs.  The bond between these two is instantaneous, and their loyalty to each other never waivers, even when the course of true love isn’t running particularly smoothly.  Since reading it, I’ve realized this book was a big break from the first three books in this series, giving the villain a chance to redeem himself and doing so with a lot more snarky humor and sense of the ridiculous than seen in the rest of the series (the memory of sun-struck vampires building abstract art out of outdoor café furniture still makes me giggle).  Most of all, though, Laurent’s transformation from self-serving castaway to Eden’s hero was a fantastic transformation.  I still have a battered old copy of this book on my keeper shelf and visit it like the old friend it’s become.

Kiss of Steel, Bec McMaster
A long standing love of steampunk led me to try this book, and I ended up spending an entire day savoring every scene.  Honoria Todd is on the run, desperate to protect her siblings from the Duke of Vickers and the ruling Echelon, and knows the Rookeries is the one place even he wouldn’t dare pursue them.  But safety means living under the constant gaze of Blade, the shadowy master of Whitechapel, and the only creature to ever stand up to the Echelon and live to tell the tale.  As the two make a wary alliance, Honoria realizes she may have at last found a person who won’t let her down, while in this clever human, Blade may have found his own salvation.  While the love story in this book is one of overwhelming want and passion and hunger, and my obvious love of tortured anti-heroes is blatantly evident as usual, I think the most impressive thing is the world that Bec McMasters created.  The detail, imagination and history she gave to her London made it a place I felt I knew as well as its storybook inhabitants.  This is a place of terrifying monsters and dark shadows, where every choice has very real consequences, and in the midst of it, a hero and heroine who will take any risk to save the one they love. 

The Rhiannon’s Law Series, J.A. Saare
This is a bit more on the Urban Fantasy side of the spectrum than some others, and, in my humble opinion, one of the most well-executed series out there today.  When I first read Dead, Undead or Somewhere in Between, I knew within a few pages that J.A. Saare was very well aware of all the conventions and expectations for Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy, had given them a respectful nod, and then tossed them out the window.  Rhiannon is a heroine who is tough as nails and deeply scarred, and can also see the dead—and never tries to hide any part of herself for anyone.  Her lover, Disco (best nickname ever), is as broody and mysterious as any vampire you could hope to find, but I love the fact that he never tries to “save” Rhiannon—because she never needs it.
Most of all, however, every book in this series has floored me with its intensity, and with its authors courage.  J.A. Saare has taken her stories to some dark places, and forced her characters to confront their darkest fears in a way that very few writers do, and while it doesn’t lead to a comfortable, happy ending, these are the choices that set a series apart.  For me, this isn’t just a fun, exciting or incredibly imaginative series, which is definitely is; this is an example of beautiful, fearless writing that pulls no punches and apologizes for nothing, which I love.

Lord of Fire, Gaelen Foley
I think I’ve mentioned this book before, but there’s no getting around the fact that this book is my true love.  After the first few chapters, during which her sister-in-law does all she can to make Alice Montague sound like the most 2-dimensional, virginal, naïve, goody-two-shoes she possibly can, it was a wonderful surprise to see that Alice had strength, determination and a drive to live a bigger, fuller life than the one she was given.  And it’s these characteristics draw our hero, Lucien, like a moth to a flame.  Having given his life and his honor to guarantee his twin brother’s safety, Lucien had much of his confidence stolen from him when he was captured and tortured by the French, and is slowly losing himself.  Though his scheming with Alice begins as a taunt and a challenge to her honor, it’s obvious that they both desperately need each other, and that their love has a chance to become the kind that comes rarely, even in novels.  There’s adventure and intrigue aplenty (and several surprising subplots with wonderfully twisted villains), but when Lucien comes back to London, determined to win Alice’s heart and ends up giving her his own instead, it simply doesn’t get much better for me.

...So how about you?  What are the books on your Keeper Shelf?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Complicated love: The Doctor and the War Widow by Viola Russell

I began writing THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW while simultaneously working on a very urban mystery. Initially, I thought THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW would be a sweet diversion from the dark world I was creating as I wrote the mystery. The more I wrote, however, I realized that love is complex. So often there is no "sweet" romance.

What began as a light romance evolved into something much more complex. Abisi and Harley are mature lovers who meet through internet dating. They are both lonely people who have suffered multiple losses and have to look past their previous wounds before they can love again. My older lovers are victims of their pasts but also must overcome their fear of experiencing hurt anew. For Harley, the wounds are deep. Since her husband died ten years ago in Iraq, she has  studiously avoided romance, and her mother's recent death has left her even more alone. She has friends who love her, but the hole in her heart can't be filled.

Abisi, too, is recovering from the death of his wife and the even more tragic death of his beloved son in war. His future with Harley is also endangered by an indiscreet romance he'd had with an unstable woman who threatens him and Harley. The unstable girlfriend plays a vital but tragic part in the couple's courtship and in the early days of their marriage.

For many of us finding love in later years, we often hang onto the baggage threatening to drag us down. My protagonists' love story reflects the doubts and fears many "mature" lovers face. We have pasts that cannot be erased, memories that still haunt us. Loving again means stepping out of the comfort zone, and leaving that safe sphere can be paralyzing. My characters must make radical changes before they can embrace the future.

As in all of my novels, setting plays an important role in THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW. Harley and Abisi travel from New Orleans, where they currently reside, to London and then to Liverpool. Harley journeys to London with Abisi to meet his daughter and her future husband. Like the young lovers, Abisi and Harley are drawn to each other on a physical and emotional level, but unlike the younger couple, they come to each other with reservations and doubt. Romance blossoms as they travel the world, with the UK playing a vital role in the development of their love. It is on a day trip to Liverpool that Abisi proposes to Harley, but their journey doesn't end with marriage. Even after the I do's" have been uttered, they must learn to accept each other, rise above the hurts of the past, banish ghosts as well as madwomen from their lives, and change what kept them from achieving complete happiness.

Check out the interview of THE DOCTOR AND THE WAR WIDOW and stand to win awesome prizes!
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