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Romance Readers Who Want a Great Movie Recommendation…Apply To These Two Books

22 Jan
Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Sitting down to a movie, either in your home or in a theater, should be filled with anticipation. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

I guess like my reading, I am VERY picky about the movies I watch. For most films, I’m happy to read spoilers because I don’t like horrible surprises (says the woman who buys her own Christmas presents and tells her husband, “Honey, I absolutely LOVE what you got me!”). With a strong aversion to violence against women, I also use websites like Kids in Mind to give me a heads up when something horrible is embedded in a film so I can take a potty break or go make popcorn. (And screw you, Downton Abbey, for NOT giving me any inkling about what was going to happen to Anna. You’re dead to me.)

Wanting a feel good movie that reaffirms your faith in humanity or is inspired by the books you love is probably a fairly popular trait, but sometimes finding a recommendation you can trust is difficult. I went to a college known for its film program and while many of my friends studying that discipline didn’t necessarily wear all black and chain smoke, they were universally fascinated by the most obscure and depressing films, bandying about terms like “schadenfreude” and “jingoism”. Even now, when I listen to NPR film critics talk about the latest deep movie that thinking people should go out and see, half the time they are fascinated by the “dark underbelly of humanity” and discuss the lingering despair that follows you out from the theater while you are desperately drying the tears from your face.

Oh my. That’s not what I want.

Enter the queen of category romance, Heidi Rice, who somehow, while pumping out dozens of great romances for Harlequin, has also managed to have a full-time career as a film critic and a mother (how many arms does she have?). Perhaps sharing my sense of despair, she has admirably assembled a host of movies which appeal to the romantic in her recent book, Movie Bliss: A Hopeless Romantic Seeks Movies to Love. While every movie she reviews doesn’t necessarily have a love story as the central theme, each one nevertheless strikes a strong cord in the area of relationships, and that’s really what we armchair psychologists dissecting our heroes and heroines like, don’t we?

Rice, utilizing the snappy British slang that makes her American fans smile while we enjoy her heroine’s witty comebacks, divvies up movies into the following categories (please note that all movie links will take you to the film’s page on the Internet Movie Database for more information):

  1. Oldies That Are Awesome (i.e., fabulous TNT classics like It Happened One Night, It’s a Wonderful Life, On the Waterfront, The Apartment, etc.)
  2. Cartoon Capers, But Not Just for Kids (i.e., movies that have you borrowing someone’s pre-teen to take to see Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Up, Toy Story 3)
  3. Rom-Coms R Us (i.e., gems like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, It’s Complicated, The Proposal, Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Joys For the Boys (and the Girls, Too) (i.e. enough action for him, enough romance for her in films like Public Enemies, Cowboys & Aliens, Skyfall, Rush)
  5. Offbeat But Right Up My Street (i.e., doesn’t look anything like a romance but you love it anyway such as Julie & Julia, The King’s Speech, The Artist)
  6. Big Is Beautiful, Bold Is Even Better (i.e. those epic films where you can’t keep popcorn in your mouth because your jaw keeps dropping open, like Gone with the Wind, The Last of the Mohicans, Brokeback Mountain, Australia)

Like everything Heidi Rice writes, I loved this book (it’s nice to know my affinity for her is not limited to fiction). Witty, informative, candid and occasionally self-deprecating, Rice’s prose makes you feel like your knowledgeable best girlfriend is giving you a run down on all the movies you should see to wear your “romance lover” badge proud and loud. I adored her glossary (I had never heard the term “dick-flick” but I guarantee I’m going to use it at least three times this weekend). Explaining the difference between Harlequin KISS heroes and Harlequin Presents heroes, and then applying those terms to various movies, was sheer genius to help me understand the tone of the film. I especially liked that her subject matter ran right up to the end of 2013, so a few of the films are recent releases, giving the book a real currency I appreciated.

Writing a film review actually has some of the elements of the book talks we librarians utilize when doing reader’s advisory. Give the hook, but don’t give away the ending; compare it to a similar more well-known work so people have an idea what it’s about; and convey your enthusiasm for the story since that’s often contagious. Heidi Rice never gives away the farm in terms of the plot, but she tantalizes you with enough detail that you are reading in one hand and queuing your watchlist with the remote in your other hand! I actually found quite a few movies I hadn’t seen that I assure you I will be watching in the upcoming long winter nights.

Did I mention the best part? No? Well, this informative, fun book is only $.99 – no joke! So run out and get personalized recommendations to satisfy the romantic in you.

One area that Rice stays clear of is the sinkhole of book to film adaptation, a particular pet peeve of mine. I firmly believe the motion picture industry exists solely to ruin books for me, so when it comes to my favorite classics, you have one testy woman on your hands if you open with this conversational gambit! Also by Harlequin is the hilarious, yet oh-so-informative, Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Carrie Sessarego.

It was startling to find out that the author and I clearly had been separated at birth. I, too, continue to reread Jane Eyre each year and have since I was a pre-teen, getting something different out of it as I’ve grown and matured. I also didn’t understand what the fuss was about with Pride & Prejudice until I realized that it was all in code (and I had read about the constraints of the Regency period) and what people were saying versus what they were feeling were two different things. Finally, I also possess a virulent hate for all things Wuthering Heights and do NOT understand what all the blather is about since Heathcliff is a first-class dick and I want to shove Cathy down a flight of stairs.

My usual mantra, but now I’ll have to reconsider watching some of these adaptations after reading Sessarego’s hilarious (and informative) work.

Yet, using prose so funny I found myself laughing out loud late into the night, Sessarego accomplishes the impossible – she actually has me thinking about watching some of the adaptations I’ve avoided like the plague due to their lack of faithfulness. Probably this is due to her masterful approach to the material. With each work, she begins by delivering the improv version of Cliff Notes, boiling down the material to it’s essence and helping the reader understand all the plot nuances you’ve might have forgotten if it’s been a while since you read the book. Then she covers the TV and movie adaptations, indicating the year, actors, director, etc. and rating them on a star system with oodles of details about how they stayed true to the book or veered away (and if it worked or not). Extremely helpful was when she made clear that the writing had ruined the script but a particular actor totally embodied the character the way a reader would enjoy. Her “Final Scorecard” at the end of each section highlights a summary of the “best of” the adaptions (i.e. “Best Mr. Darcy” “Best Rochester” etc.) and she even has a terrific “Special Features” section with tantalizing little bios of the original book authors – and trivia and a music playlist!

Since this excellent (and much needed) book is a mere $.99 as well, I’m thinking that fans of these books are fools if they don’t run out and buy this puppy for immediate consumption. Honestly, this book would make a terrific basis for a themed party (or series of them) with English grad students, best girlfriends or even a fun English class (don’t think I won’t be pitching it to my English teachers on Monday) since it still manages to delve into the core of each book in order to determine if the adaptation met the objectives of the original work. Sessarego blew me away with her wit and insight, so much so I’m hoping she has another media criticism book in the pile so I can look forward to visiting with her on a different topic.

Enjoy your romance – the mystery of love and relationships that reminds us why it is good (and sometimes painful) to be human – in book and on film. With guides like Heidi Rice and Carrie Sessarego steering us to good films, we can’t go wrong.

Happy reading!

Over at Romance Novels in Color Today…

29 Nov

Hey, everyone! I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a reviewer position at Romance Novels in Color, a website dedicated to highlighting romance novels which possess diversity in their heroes or heroines. I’ve loved getting their newsletter for a while, so it’s especially nice to add my own two cents. Sadly, I didn’t love my first book that I reviewed, but I was happy to do it! I think it will be fun to have the occasional post over there and I’ll be sure to link to it from here when I do.

Take a look at my post for the menage story of Relax, Bell by Lou Lou Winters or poke around the site to see what else is on there that might add to your Black Friday deals today. ­čÖé

Why I Hate Writing a Negative Review: Consent to Love by Abby Wood

17 May

Consent to Love by Abby Wood (April 2, 2012, Carina Press)

One of the drawbacks with asking for copies of just out or upcoming ebooks from NetGalley is the commitment to writing a review. ┬áNot that I don’t enjoy writing reviews, I do, but you always have the sword hanging over your head that one of them might not be good, and then what do you say? You have to tell the truth to your readers, but hate the thought of possibly hurting the feelings of a writer who spent a lot of time and energy on a work of fiction that means something to them.

The best way to approach it is not to just trash the book, but to be very specific about what you didn’t like about it. Truth be told, there have been plenty of times I’ve read a very negative review on Goodreads and still decided to buy the book, because the points picked out by the reviewer were details that wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, or even things that sounded great! Just because someone didn’t like it, doesn’t mean there isn’t a reader out there who might enjoy that specific work.

I like to say that I’m a picky eater, but an omnivorous reader in that I read and enjoy just about everything. Unfortunately, I could not swallow Consent to Love by Abby Wood. It takes a lot to have me put down a book, but I managed to get 75% of the way through this one and thought, “Oh my God, I just can’t read one more sentence of this.” I tried to pick it up two more times, but ended up putting it down yet again before finally giving up.

Let me be clear about what I didn’t like. Kane is a sexy construction worker known to the lovely barmaid Ana Reynold through mutual friends. He lives on the local Lakota reservation raising the horses he loves, but one look at Ana and he has to have her. Ana melts at one glance of Kane’s substantial physique and they soon strike up a very passionate physical relationship. She’s upfront about not having a ton of experience, and he is clear that he doesn’t think a relationship is a great idea, largely because of the tremendous local prejudice about interracial relationships, particularly with a Native American man and white woman.

This had SUCH great potential. I’m with the hordes of romance writers and industry enthusiasts who lament the dearth of great minority characters and at first glance Kane was everything he should be. His Lakota heritage wasn’t belabored but was rather simply part of who he is, lending a valuable dimension and insight into his character. The prejudice against him seemed out of control in this day and age, but I don’t live in the West and the author does, so she gets to make the call on that societal commentary.

Where I kept getting stuck was on Ana’s character. She was so hard to suss out, to the point where I began to wonder if she had a personality disorder that would explain her lack of predictability. She’s an artist, somehow a terrific one despite not much education, but she alternates between being okay with the casual nature of her relationship with Kane to crying about how much they are meant for each other. With people in her life, she vacillates between being assertive and clear about her personal goals or feelings, and painfully reticent. I guess, she came off as incredibly young in the end, and there is nothing appealing for me about an immature heroine. The dialogue was particularly awkward, to the point of it repeatedly jarring me out of the story, and that’s a flaw that has me always put down a book.

The love scenes were well-written and the narrative description of the setting of the small town, the reservation, and Kane’s sister’s home were outstanding, giving me a vivid visual image to place the characters. But sadly, it wasn’t enough in this case. Because of it, however, I would give Abby Wood a second try with a new novel, but this novella left me with more than a little indigestion.

Gritty Romantic Suspense with Cynthia Justlin’s Edge of Light

6 May

Edge of Light by Cynthia Justlin (May 14, 2012 Carina Press)

When I saw Edge of Light by Cynthia Justlin available as one of the Carina Press options on NetGalley, I felt a serious jonesing for a romantic suspense novel and immediately requested it. Look at the cover – neat colors, the haunted look of the person behind bars, the bleeding edge of the title – this is a prime romantic suspense book cover! I was getting little creepy chills examining the details.

Of course, before requesting it, I toodled over to Amazon and Goodreads to read the reviews and was more than a little baffled. ┬áThe reviews were rather mixed, with readers either in the “I love it” or “It was so graphic I hated it and didn’t finish.”

*minor rant about people who cannot interpret romance covers*┬áWhenever I notice a schizophrenia happening in the reviews, I usually just read the book to see where I come out on the spectrum, but in this case, I could tell right off the bat that the people who didn’t like the book are NOT┬áconnoisseurs┬áof romance covers. Every cranky comment had a “I wish there had been more romance” or “It was so graphic” angle.

People. LOOK AT THE COVER. Do you see two people making kissyface or even embracing? No, you do not.  This is a signal the emphasis will be more on suspense and not as much on the romance. Do you see the creepy prison bars and read the description about it being about a crappy Cambodian prison? This is a BIG signal that it will have lots of disturbing details because any prison, to say nothing of Cambodian prisons built around slave labor camps, are not known for their amenities and little Bliss shampoo giveaways. You need to use your experience to let your cover knowledge increase so you can make better choices in the future. *rant concluded*

Jocelyn Hewitt is a forensic anthropologist comfortable in the jungle. She finagles her way to Cambodia, helping on an assignment but really looking for evidence of her father, a scholar and adventurer who disappeared years ago. Her team massacred in front of her and taken hostage, Jocelyn ends up in a prison with a madman who believes she can lead him to a priceless treasure. And she’s not the only one behind bars.

Oliver Shaw can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t trapped in this horrible prison. Taken along with his CIA team two years ago, he has both physical scars and psychological ones from watching his team (including his girlfriend) massacred in front of him. Kept alive by virtue of the art he creates for the demented prison overseer, he hears Jocelyn’s voice and doesn’t want to care about another person who can be taken away. But he can’t help himself, as his interaction with her awakens memories and feelings of who he really is. Can they escape and if they do, will what they have still remain in the light of day?

Right off the bat, I was incredibly impressed with Oliver’s character. ┬áHe is a great tortured hero, who has mentally fought back by surviving when all odds are stacked against him. Knowing the CIA has written him off as dead, he gets his only energy from the artistic act of creating the numerous church scenes the villain requires, giving great dimension to his character and his point of view. Oliver’s memories and thoughts are heart wrenching, so much so that it provides a wonderful measure when you realize how Jocelyn is affecting him for the better.

Justlin also does an excellent job with the practically nonstop action. I loved that she started the reader right in the middle of the action and it just kept going. Even when the protagonists were at rest, mentally they were churning and moving the story along. It doesn’t hurt that the villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like your friendly town councilman. I think the only time I questioned the motivation of one of characters was when Jocelyn was making some decisions at the end of the book, but it was pretty minor.

Edge of Light would be a wonderful transition book for readers used to Tom Clancy-esque thrillers who are ready for a little more romance in their page-turning. Sadly, this book seems to be in e-book form only, so I’m not sure if the print release date is delayed or it’s only going to be digital. Either way, I’d encourage lovers of romantic suspense to check out Cynthia Justlin’s latest novel. Oh, and be sure to take a good look at the cover.

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