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Smugglivus 2010 Guest Blogger: Jane Litte of Dear Author

Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 9

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: Jane Litte, of Dear Author, one of the most excellent and comprehensive Romance (with the occasional review of UF, Fantasy and YA) sites in the interwebs. Jane and her fellow reviewers cover all sorts of Romance with in-depth reviews, as well as writing thoughtful articles about the genre (like this recent one about Reader’s Consent). Jane is also quite possibly one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to ebooks and everything related to digital content.

Everybody, please let’s give a warm welcome to Jane!

I’m an inveterate reader of backlist titles so at the end of the year, maybe half of the books I’ve read aren’t even published in that year. This is truer today than ever given that digitization of backlist titles are making older books increasingly more accessible.

These end of the year lists are such a struggle because sometimes my best books are old books but given that the Book Smugglers didn’t require me to stick to any publishing date (unlike what I do to my own bloggers!), I decided to share a few titles that really sang for me even though some of them were published years ago.

Before I get into my list, it should be noted that I read romance and sometimes I read very explicit, very sexual romance and my favorites of the year reflect this.

I was first introduced to Michelle Reid’s writing via the WeWriteRomance Blogger Bundle put together by Harlequin Books. In the first volume, the bloggers included The Brazilian’s Blackmailed Bride.

This book prompted a strong emotional response from me, enough that I went out and purchased a number of Reid’s backlist titles. Two of them stood out for me. The Bellini Bride and The Gold Ring of Betrayal.

Both of these books take the original romance formula and some very common romance tropes and turn them slightly on their head. In the Bellini Bride, the heroine is notorious for posing nude for a well known artist. Her notoriety is part of her lure for the hero but it keeps him from viewing her as marriageable material. In subtle ways, this book takes on the notion of the lady on the street and the whore in the bed concept in that Marco, the hero, must realign his attitude toward art, nudity, and respectability.

In The Gold Ring of Betrayal (not in print or digital), the hero and heroine are estranged but the heroine has called on her wealthy husband to find out who has kidnapped her daughter, the daughter that the estranged husband believes is the product of an affair. This supposed affair led to the separation between the hero and heroine. The setup isn’t uncommon for romances but both parties come to a conclusion about the future of their relationship that is uncommon, particularly given the time that Reid spends to build up how deeply offensive it was to the hero that the heroine had betrayed him.

Two erotic romance titles that I really enjoyed but were not published in 2010 were Liberating Lacey by Anne Calhoun and Willing Victim by Cara McKenna.

Erotic romance is really hard to do well. I’ve read many a terrible erotic romances and most of my F reviews are of erotic romances. I am not exactly sure why when erotic romances go bad, they go really really bad. What I do know is that well done ER hardly gets enough praise, not even from me.

Liberating Lacey is an older woman, younger man story but it’s more than a story about age differences; the real conflict is more about class differences. The heroine is a very wealthy, professional and the hero is a cop. For the heroine, Lacey, these differences are meaningless, but probably because despite her divorce has a strong self image. What she has lacked for a long time, however, was adventure in the bedroom. Hunter, the hero, brings that in the form of a risky parking lot adventure to role playing the ultimate bad cop scene. What he can’t bring, however, is his heart because one rich girl has already wreaked havoc with it.

I hesitated to bring up this next title because there has been more than one discussion of the rape trope in fantasy and YA books here at The Book Smugglers. Willing Victim is about a girl who has been living her life in idle. One day she meets a guy who is not her type, as he informs her while turning down a flirtatious invitation to meet up at a later date. What Flynn means by “not her type” is that he likes to have very rough sex.

For me, rape is all about the power and not about the sex itself. For a man to rape a woman is about the most power he can wield over her. It’s a violation, internally and externally; physically and emotionally. In Willing Victim, however, the taken-by-force sexual scenes are fantasy role playing for the characters.

We talked about the issue of consent at Dear Author, about how a reader consents for the characters. To a great degree, a book like Willing Victim works only in so far as you, the reader, believes that the willing victim is giving consent the entire time. Lauren is tired of making decisions, tired of being in control of her emotional response and with Flynn, she can let that all go. This book isn’t going to work for everyone but I think it’s illustrative of how the giving of consent can be empowering for a woman in a sexual situation. I don’t think there is any equivalence between the scenarios in Willing Victim and the rape trope that seems to be the de rigeur basis for character development in females. There are a lot of flaws in the story, but the issue of consent is done right or at least it was done right for me.

Of course, I did plenty of reading of 2010 published books. I thought Loretta Chase’s Last Night’s Scandal was some kind of wonderful.

The managing and spirited Olivia trying to bring about her own happy ever after by trying to ensnare her best friend and love of life, Peregrine, was one of the best heroines of recent memory. Chase has always been known for her strong and capable heroines and Olivia was cut from that same mold.

Finally, I fell in love with the steampunk genre with Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke.

What I thought was so amazing, though, wasn’t the steampunk world building. Yes, the tight integration of the steampunk technology with the plot and the overarching political unrest was great. Yes, the delicate balance between history and science was well done. But what really was so moving for me was the way in which Brook deals with race. How Mina struggles with everyone seeing the Horde (bad guys) in her face whereas everyone sees Rhys for his deeds, as an individual. Isn’t this the very heart of racism – judging people by how they look instead of how they act? Mina, a woman of mixed race, was judged by how she looked instead of all the passion she put into creating a safe place for the people who despised her on a regular basis. For me, Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke was so tremendous because it reached beyond science and history into the personal space of a reader.

Thanks for inviting me to be part of Smugglivus 2010!

Thank you and Happy Smugglivus to you, Jane!

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  • Cara McKenna
    December 9, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Who is this Cara Elliott woman, and how has she managed to steal my own book from under me?

    I tease. Thanks again, Jane, for the kind words about Willing Victim. I’ve been so pleased by the largely positive response this story’s received. Of all my published books—and they’re all from this year as I’m a complete newbie—this one has been far-and-away the most popular. Not sure how I feel about that, as I’m now well positioned to become known as “the one who wrote that rape fantasy book”…but the discussions it’s prompted have been truly fascinating.

    Again, my thanks. Happy Smugglivus to all!

    Cara McKenna

  • Jane
    December 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

    The author name error is totally mine. I make this errors all the time for some reason.

  • Ana
    December 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    And I am a complete doofus, for reading through the post at least 3 time and not picking this up!

    I am really sorry, Jane and Cara, it is fixed now!

  • Anne Calhoun
    December 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I’ve read all of these books (and wrote one of them ;)) and I’m truly honored to be included with such talented authors. I also fell in love with steampunk through Meljean’s book…it’s a perfect read for a cold winter’s night. Happy Smugglivus, everyone!


  • SylviaSybil
    December 9, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Great post. I especially agree with the point about race in The Iron Duke. It’s one of the things that really connected me to the book, that despite living in a totally different world the protagonists struggle with the same issues: racism, family, individuality.

  • Keishon
    December 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

    To echo everybody else, great post. I think I own them all even the Loretta Chase because you said it was a best friends to lovers story which is one of the tropes I love, love, love. Will have to get the Calhoun title. I totally missed that one.

  • Liz
    December 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I found Gold Ring of Betrayal for 50 cents in a library sale and snapped it up because of Jane–interesting the way it played with Presents tropes. Dear Author has led me to so many good books! (You too, Booksmugglers). Thanks.

  • Cara McKenna
    December 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    No worries! Heck, call me whatever you like if you’re going to keep me in such amazing company!


  • Janine Ballard
    December 9, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I was really intrigued by the review of Willing Victim when it first appeared on Dear Author and now that I have a kindle, buying e-books has gotten a million times easier. So I purchased it a minute ago.

    Of the other books on the list, I’ve only read The Iron Duke and Last Night’s Scandal, but I loved both.

  • katiebab
    December 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Last Night’s Scandal showed perfectly how friends can become lovers. Can’t go wrong with Chase.

    The Iron Duke is revolutionary, IMO.

  • Susan D.
    December 9, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    After reading last night’s tweets and then this post I downloaded and read Willing Victim. It didn’t read frightening or like rape to me–it read so clearly as consent and role playing by the characters. I thought Flynn was kinda sweet in his own gruff way. 🙂

    I liked Liberating Lacey and The Iron Duke. (Did anyone NOT like The Iron Duke?) Haven’t read the others–more for my towering TBR.

  • Meljean
    December 9, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I really loved LIBERATING LACEY, too. And although I haven’t read WILLING VICTIM yet, I did read and enjoy McKenna’s RUIN ME, enough that WV is right up there on my TBR.

    I’m really, really curious about GOLD RING OF BETRAYAL now. I’m such a sucker for HPs, anyway, and if they are a bit different from the norm, even more so.

  • Jane
    December 9, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Ana/Thea thanks so much for having me during your special celebration.

    @Anne Calhoun – I’m a big fan of your work, as you know. I’m glad other people are discovering you. Too bad it only took me a year!

    @SylviaSybil – I agree. There is such a universality in conflict represented in the Iron Duke. It made it so relatable.

    @Keishon – I can’t remember if you read Lord Perfect or not but it’s the kids in Lord Perfect. I think Chase did a great job of portraying these grown ups with the same spirit as she presented them as kids which is tough to do.

    @ Liz – I’m so glad my recommendation worked for you. It’s almost harder to give a recommendation than a bad review because I’m implicitly suggesting that you spend your hard earned money.

    @Cara McKenna – You are very gracious.

    @Janine Ballard – Kindle one click buy wreaks havoc on my credit card.

    @katiebabs – Chase is such a great writer. Iron Duke was revelatory for me.

    @Susan D. – I’m glad that you liked Willing Victim. I was nervous about talking about it because I didn’t want to come off as a rape apologist but, like you, I thought that the role playing fantasy lines were quite clear.

    I think that for some, though, even the role playing and fantasy of the forced sex makes them uncomfortable, which I can understand. It’s not a book for everyone.

    @Meljean – Ruin Me was an interesting story. I didn’t know what to think but I was intrigued enough to buy and read it. I need to write up a review. It’s the kind of story only a writer with a really strong voice could carry off. I thought McKenna had some great lines in there. Loved the metaphor about the heroine as the car that the boyfriend wants to show off. Spot on.

    Liberating Lacey is such a good erotic romance. I felt that it captured both the emotion and the sexual heat that I look for in that subgenre. All too often you only get one (usually the sexual heat) which just doesn’t carry the emotional power. I’ve re-read LL quite a number of times.

    I think you’ll also enjoy Anne’s upcoming Spice Brief. It’s a light BDSM but, again, brings a strong emotional storyline in a short space.

    No Gravatar on December 9, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I really loved LIBERATING LACEY, too. And although I haven’t read WILLING VICTIM yet, I did read and enjoy McKenna’s RUIN ME, enough that WV is right up there on my TBR.

    I’m really, really curious about GOLD RING OF BETRAYAL now. I’m such a sucker for HPs, anyway, and if they are a bit different from the norm, even more so.


  • beebee
    December 12, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Willing Victim was my favorite book of this year. It pulled me out of my reading slump!

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