Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 24
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
Who: the lovely Rose Lerner, writer of Historical Romance novels.
Everybody please, give it up for Rose!
This was a great reading year for me. There was a point where I was spending so much time on my day job and writing and the internet and my social life (seriously, a social life? What was I thinking?) that I had barely had time to read. And I don’t think I noticed how much I missed it until I started again, and suddenly I was feeling so much better about nearly everything in my life, and more inspired to write, too! And it doesn’t hurt that while I was getting steadily more and more behind on the historical romances being published, I missed a ton of fantastic newer authors and then got to catch up on the awesome all at once. Here are two of my favorites with their 2010 releases (look, I have to limit myself to two because I’m too wordy):
1. Courtney Milan. Her Proof by Seduction and its companion Trial by Desire both came out this year.
I don’t even know where to start on the awesome that is these books. The independent heroines, brave yet terribly afraid of being hurt? The heartbreaking heroes? The amazing writing? My very favorite thing about both of them, though, was how they used the whole concept of alpha heroes.
So, I’ve been thinking about alpha heroes recently. I’ve heard people say that romances are a space for women to construct masculinity, and I agree. Now, the alpha hero–a man’s man, a big, strong, silent guy who effortlessly dominates everyone in the room–he’s defined by his strength and power.
And in an action movie or a mystery or a thriller, a lot of times that strength and power can be dangerous to women, used to control them or hurt them or even just limit the importance of their role in a story. But romances are stories where problems aren’t solved by strength, they’re solved by love. Emotional courage and power, not physical. And what’s the one thing the alpha hero is usually bad at, just really totally unable to deal with? Feelings! It’s generally the heroine who’s good at those.
So a lot of alpha hero romances take this sexy but potentially threatening guy, and they put him at the mercy of a woman. What makes the alpha hero so sexy is his desperate need for love, yet desperate inability to ask for it, or to know what to do when he feels it–the way he needs the heroine to teach him how to be, not weak, but vulnerable.
In Proof by Seduction, this is dialed up to eleven, and I loved it. Gareth’s strong, silent bearing is revealed pretty quickly to be the result of, generally, not knowing what to say or how to relate to people in any capacity other than telling them what to do. I loved Gareth from the beginning, but I really fell for him the first time we saw him hopelessly trying to fix his relationship with his sister and not even understanding what he was doing wrong. And the scene where, at Jenny’s behest, he tries to make friends with his estate agent–it’s comedy and romance gold.
And then there’s Ned’s alpha hero exterior in Trial by Desire. Oh, there are real elements to it. Ned’s strong and capable. But it’s also a careful construct, designed to hide and compensate for what Ned believes is his essential weakness and inability.
2. Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran.
I love everything Meredith Duran has ever written, and this book was no exception. I can’t, actually, articulate how much I loved it, so I will just give you a couple of quotes:
“In this world, there is nothing more wicked than a woman who is unafraid to acknowledge what she wants.”
That statement doesn’t feel much less true today than it would have in 1890, does it? I actually, unexpectedly, teared up when I read it–at the statement itself, and at the power of Alex saying it to Gwen, telling her that he will give her space to be herself, without judgment.
I think it some ways it’s the mission statement of the whole book. I’m a sucker for heroines with intimacy issues–they used to be pretty rare but now I think (hope) they’re getting fashionable! And Gwen turns the prickly heroine on her head. She keeps people at a distance not with snappy comebacks or coldness but with relentlessly kind, sweet propriety.
She decides that in order to feel free, she has to be wicked. But what she finds, in the end, is that she has to learn to know herself, her desires and her fears, and she has to be honest about them, at least with the people she cares about. And of course it’s Alex who helps her do that, by accepting her unreservedly. Here’s my other favorite excerpt from the book:
“Gwendolyn Elizabeth Maudsley,” he said softly, rolling the syllables in his low, smooth voice. “She is your secret, I think. She is the person you keep hidden from the world. I wonder, do you even know her yourself? […I]n the night–some night when you’re all alone–will you look in the mirror with honesty?”
Her heartbeat was quickening. He was right. A month ago, this question would have made no sense, because she would not have let it make sense. And certainly she would not have been able to answer it as she did now:
“Yes,” she said.
A smile touched the edge of his mouth. “And who will you see?” he murmured. “Would Elma know her? Would Belinda? Would Richard have done?”
No. They would not. But…
You would know her, she thought. You, Alex.
Oops, I accidentally swooned!
Bonus 2010 TV romance highlights:
1. Series 5 of Doctor Who.
The new Companion, Amy, is fantastic and brave and smart and funloving and tragic-backstory-having and weird, and her fiancée; Rory is one of the most adorable love interests I’ve seen on TV. I can’t actually remember the last time a season finale made me so happy. I can’t wait for the Christmas special!
This is the new CW show about college cheerleaders. I started watching because I love cheerleading sequences and I’ve watched Bring It On approximately forty thousand times, but the relationships on this show are startlingly well-written. I love every single couple, but my stealth favorite is Alice and Jake, the bitchy wannabe-captain of the cheerleading team and the school’s snotty star quarterback. They started out as near-caricatures but quickly developed into two difficult and sometimes self-centered people who nevertheless really care about and like each other, and struggle each week with the internal and external pressures on their relationship.
Ten of my most anticipated books of 2011:
1. Unveiled by Courtney Milan. Big surprise there!
2. A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran.
OMG from the description I think it’s a Pygmalion story. I am such a fan. Plus, I have cover envy.
3. The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan
The conclusion of her YA urban fantasy trilogy about demons and found family, and if you aren’t reading it, you should be.
4. A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant (debut).
Cecilia is a friend of mine from the Greater Seattle RWA and if her book is even half as fabulous and witty and well-written as her blog posts and interviews, it will be one of my new favorite romances ever.
5. Okay since I’m already talking about how great my friends are, two of my critique partners have books coming out in 2011. A Tryst with Trouble by Alyssa Everett is a Regency-set romance with a murder mystery at its heart (the hero and heroine have a great Beatrice-and-Benedick vibe), and
6. Susanna Fraser’s A Marriage of Inconvenience is a really cool Cinderella story with a heroine who can’t let go of her self-control and a hero who can’t stop trying to control everything around him (if you read her debut The Sergeant’s Lady, this one is Anna’s brother and sister-in-law’s story).
7. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. EEE next Thursday Next book!
8. The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin. I had a pretty big crush on ruthless, cynical Li Tao in Butterfly Swords, so I am thrilled to see the next book is about him, and I’m very intrigued to see him and Ling Suyin together.
9. City of Ash by Megan Chance.
She’s one of my favorite authors ever and the book is about two women of different social classes who have to join forces after the Seattle fire of 1889. Sold!
10. Joanna Bourne’s next book doesn’t have a name yet, but her website says it will be out sometime next fall! I’ve been waiting for Adrian’s story since he first walked onscreen in book 1, so needless to say I’m excited.
Thank you, Rose and Merry Smugglivus!