It’s Time to Get Romantic

Romance. Erotica. What comes to mind when you read these words? Do you think of the “pinkies” in the Large Type collection? Harlequin romances your mom used to read? Fifty Shades of Grey? Romance is all of that and so much more.

I unabashedly admit proclaim being a romance reader and enjoy sharing with you the best of the best every year when I cover the RITAs. The RITAs are selected by the Romance Writers of America every year at their annual conference. The category descriptions have one thing in common: the romance titles they list are emotionally satisfying and optimistic. This is also known as the main reason Carol reads romance in the first place.

This year’s winners were announced at the end of July but I was still trying to snap out of the lovely trance The Boys in the Boat had woven around me. Now I’m a bit back to normal and happy to link you to this year’s winners:

No Good Duke - MacLeanBest First Book Winner
The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake

Contemporary Romance Winner
Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe

Erotic Romance Winner
Claim Me by J. Kenner

Historical Romance Winner
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

Inspirational Romance Winner
Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Claim Me - KennerParanormal Romance Winner
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Romance Novella Winner
Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter

Romantic Suspense Winner
Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane

Short Contemporary Romance Winner
Why Resist a Rebel? by Leah Ashton

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library is working on purchasing them, but they’re not yet in the catalog. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

RWA also awards a Librarian of the Year to someone who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. This year’s librarian of the year is Sean Gilmartin from The Anythink Library in Thornton, Colorado. Sean did a wonderful write-up of his experience in USA Today that you should totally go read. Like, right now. He’s also a writer, so keep your eyes open for his name on the shelves of the Romance section in the future.

Obsidian - ArmentroutI learned from Carol Ritter, Deputy Executive Director of RWA, that this year there weren’t enough entries in the YA category, so as a result there was no winner. I classify this as a major bummer and hope that next year will be different. Carol also said there aren’t any plans at this time to add an NA category to the RITAs, but I speculate that may change in the future as its popularity continues to rise. What is NA? While many people recognize YA standing for young adult, not everyone has caught on to NA, or new adult. NA is similar to YA in that the characters are of a certain age. But in NA’s case the age group is closer to college-aged. Characters aren’t in high school anymore, but they’re also not exactly established in their careers yet. They’re just starting out on their own, and as they explore their worlds these books get to the core of what it’s like to really fall hard for someone for the first time. The romantic elements tend to be more explicit in NA than in YA, but both usually contain a fair amount of emotional turmoil and fresh-faced discovery.

Frigid - J LynnCan’t decide which to explore first? I will ease you into it by suggesting you read anything and everything written by Jennifer L. Armentrout (YA) aka J. Lynn (NA). Jennifer is one of the most prolific writers of our time, and more importantly, her books are good. I mean, really, really good. You will care and cry and laugh and swoon for her characters. You will identify and connect with someone in your life who has read her and find yourself talking about the little quirks the characters have, and what you hope does or does not happen in the series conclusion. And when you’ve devoured her stories and are waiting for the next to be published, she tweets behind-the-scenes descriptions of what life is really like for a writer. She champions self-published authors, since she started out as one, and will express her joy at a book she’s read and enjoyed during those rare moments of free time. She interacts directly with fans and one of her best collections of photos is with fans at book signings & conferences.

So far, I have devoured all but the ending to The Lux series, which is classified as YA. I’ve been waiting until I have a bit more uninterrupted free time to read the conclusion. It has romance, action and adventure, and a Sci-Fi twist: aliens! Last week The Lux series cracked the NY Times YA Series list at number 4. As a thank you, Jennifer posted a bonus passage for Lux fans who have completed the series that catches up with the characters a few years later. I can’t read it just yet but am excited know it’s there, waiting for me.

My first taste of NA was Frigid, followed immediately by Wait for You. The plot of Frigid is a variation on my favorite theme, friends who become more than just friends. Wait for You centers on a woman who faces her internal demons while working toward a brighter future. At the time I wasn’t aware that either book would be part of a series, so now I can look forward to falling further into obsession love with the characters and settings!

For me, the best part of reading romance is knowing there is a happy ending waiting at the conclusion of the book. It’s something I can count on, something I can look forward to experiencing. We can all use a little bit of happy in our lives, and that’s why I will never tire of reading romance. And, dear reader, I will never tire of telling you why you need to read it as well.

Book Awards with a Twist

Gold Trophy

Many, many book awards are given out every year, but here are three unique awards you might want to add to your bookmarks.

On the whole, U.S. citizens have very little awareness of non-English language literature; for this reason alone the Best Translated Book Award deserves your attention. The award is offered through the website Three Percent and they recently announced the longlist for the 2014 award. Over the next few weeks they’ll be posting arguments for why each longlisted contender should win. The shortlist will be announced April 15th and the award on April 28th.

EPL currently owns 13 of the 25 BTBA contenders.

Another award that rewards a daily check on the action is the Tournament of Books, now in its tenth year. As described on their About page, “The ToB is an annual springtime event… where 16 or so of the previous year’s best works of fiction enter a March Madness-style battle royale. At the end of the month, the winner of the Tournament is blessed with the Rooster, our prize named after David Sedaris’s brother (because why not).”  This year’s tourney is now in the quarterfinals, but even if you’re late joining in, you can still revisit each bout in the links on the sidebar. In addition to the renowned individual judges who preside over each match, you’ll find great color commentary from the event hosts and a fan base commentariat that engages in lively extended discussions of the books.

EPL currently owns 14 of the 17 ToB contenders.

And finally, a new award is in the works to redress the wrongs of book awards given 50 years ago. The website Bookslut has come up with the Daphnes, and is currently reevaluating books published in 1963. They announced their shortlist last month (here’s the L.A. Times coverage of the announcement). The award categories include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature.

EPL currently owns 5 of the 7 Daphne fiction finalists.

One thing all these awards do is remind us that taste is subjective and each of these contenders will be considered the winner in some readers’ eyes; check the lists or follow the action and maybe you’ll discover a new (or new to you) favorite author or book.

I’d Love for You to Read This

Love is in the air—and on the page. It’s time once again to announce the winners of the summer’s hottest awards: the Romance Writers of America’s RITAs. The RITAs are named after RWA’s very first president, Rita Clay Estrada, and have been awarded every year since 1982. It’s not simply an honorary but an actual award—a golden statuette of a woman, whom I assume to be none other than Rita herself, reading a book. According to RWA’s website, it “has become the symbol for excellence in published romance fiction.”

I’ll say!

Past recipients include Nora Roberts, LaVyrle Spencer, Francine Rivers, Diana Gabaldon, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Robin Lee Hatcher, Tess Gerritsen, Debbie Macomber, Julia Quinn, Jill Shalvis, Tessa Dare, and my new favorite author, Darynda Jones.

I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: as one of the few admitted romance readers on staff, I feel it’s my duty, right, and pleasure to present this list to you, dear reader. And I’m not even vying for a nomination for Librarian of the Year. Mainly because I’m not a librarian, but also because I’m ever-so-humble. Wink wink.

I’m including links to the catalog so you can easily find a copy now, because you know these holds queues are going to blow up as word starts to gets out.

Best Contemporary Single Title Romance:
The Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy

Best Historical Romance:
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

Best Romantic Suspense:
Scorched by Laura Griffin

Best Inspirational Romance:
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden

Best Short Contemporary Series Romance:
A Night of No Return by Sarah Morgan

Best Long Contemporary Series Romance:
A Gift for All Seasons by Karen Templeton

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements & Best First Book:
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Best Paranormal Romance:
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

Best Young Adult Romance:
The Farm by Emily McKay

Best Romance Novella:
Seduced by a Pirate by Eloisa James

You’ll notice I didn’t include a link for every title. That’s because the library hasn’t yet purchased all of them. If you’re interested, feel free to talk to a librarian. Let them know it’s now an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

At the same time they announced the RITA winners, RWA also announced the Golden Heart Winners. What’s a Golden Heart? The short version: it’s an award given to outstanding unpublished manuscripts. The final round of the contest is judged by romance editors. Many winners go on to enjoy a career as a published romance novelist. Recipients are awarded an actual golden heart pendant. Gotta love literal literary prizes!

Perhaps you’d like to submit your own manuscript for next year’s Golden Heart competition. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of putting pen to paper (or keys to screen) and want to begin writing, but you don’t know where to start. We’ve got some excellent writing resources sitting in the stacks waiting to help guide you through the process of writing a romantic novel–including how to write those steamy love scenes.

Another valuable resource is Romantic Times. Each issue is packed with well-written reviews for everything from contemporary to paranormal, inspirational to erotica. I used to subscribe at home but I’ve since let my subscription lapse, since I can get each issue for free from the library. It’s also a great way to get a feel for what’s popular in romance publishing right now. You may notice themes or topics not currently trending–maybe this is the direction in which you’re meant to go.

Imagine your future as a literary trendsetter. It’s a good future, yes? Now go grab a RITA winner and get to work “researching.”

Carol

Heartwood 2:11 – The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory is a page-turning novel concerned with the making of art, the difficulty of forging meaningful relationships, the challenges of living within a globalized commercial economy, and the inevitability of individual decline.

Jed Martin is an artist who works and lives in resigned isolation. His enhanced photographs of Michelin road maps lead him into the arms of Russian beauty Olga (who works for Michelin) and unexpected success. But his indecisiveness at a crucial moment has serious consequences for both his love life and his art, plunging him into an aimless existence until a chance encounter prompts him to return to his childhood love of painting. This leads to his next big successful project: capturing on canvas the spirit of a wide range of professions, to which he gives titles such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology.

Jed does not believe in authentic friendship and is a borderline misanthrope, but nevertheless he finds a brief and quiet rapport with a writer (yes, named Michel Houellebecq) before the story turns grisly in the last part of the book. Another plot thread involves Jed’s father, who is dying of cancer, and the tentative attempts of son and father to mend their strained and distant relationship.

The thoughts of Houellebecq’s major characters reveal a great deal of cynicism, which can be a bit unnerving. His previous novels have stirred up some controversy in France, and from what I’ve heard I’m not sure I’d care for them. But reviews of The Map and the Territory indicate a shift in subject matter and a less severe tone, which convinced me to give the book a try. I am very glad that I did – this may be the best new book I’ve read this year – but readers should be prepared for some dark and unflinching observations.

The best parts of the book for me are the insights into art, culture, and society that pour from the pages in powerful though often understated ways; and characters who are realistic, flawed, but sympathetic in their forthrightness and vulnerability. There is some very fine writing here, and the book should especially appeal to those who’ve read and enjoyed any of the latest novels by Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides or the late David Foster Wallace. If this sounds like you, take a look at The Map and the Territory.

And while you’re at it, grab Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, another compelling though locally neglected novel (based on EPL circulation statistics) that also addresses the making of art, relationships, mortality, and the culture industry. 

__________

The Map and the Territory was awarded the 2010 Prix Goncourt

Heartwood | About Heartwood

2012 RITA Awards

The last month or so has been pretty chaotic. Between my best friend finally receiving a new kidney and my brother visiting my husband and me, before I knew it August (and the insomnia-inducing hot weather) had arrived in full force. So it’s no surprise that I missed out on the announcement of the 2012 RITA award winners.

The Romance Writers of America (RITA) announce every summer the best of the best, one winner in each of several popular romance sub-genres. And as one of the few library staff members who admits to reading romance novels, I feel it’s my duty to share the list with you. Sorry, 50 Shades fans. Your books didn’t make the list.

Best Paranormal Romance:
Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Best Romance Novella:
I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements:
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal

Best First Book:
First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Best Historical Romance:
The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne

Best Regency Historical Romance:
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

Best Young Adult Romance:
Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Best Romantic Suspense:
New York to Dallas by J.D. Robb

Best Inspirational Romance:
The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller

Best Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure:
Soldier’s Last Stand by Cindy Dees

Best Contemporary Series Romance:
Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan

Best Contemporary Single Title Romance:
Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe

In preparing this blog post I ended up putting a few titles on hold–they sounded too good to pass up! You’ll notice that the library hasn’t purchased some of these yet. If you’re interested, feel free to let a librarian know that it’s an award winner and that Carol sent ya.

Carol

PS: If you’d like some more great romance suggestions, try flipping through an issue of Romantic Times. You’re sure to find some real page-turners any time of the year.

Words Plus Pictures Equals Riveting Adventures

As the holiday season approaches there are abundant movie releases aimed at families and children. One of the most eagerly awaited is Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s Caldecott Medal book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This movie, enhanced by 3-D, is directed by Martin Scorsese in steam punk style, which seems perfect for its 1931 Paris setting. Because the story deals with the early history of cinema it seems an ideal, if unusual, vehicle for Scorsese.

But, it’s the book that we’re interested in. Its format was so different from any previous title that when first released it became a near instant classic. Although 500 pages long, it only takes a few hours to read. The book is interspersed with the author/illustrator’s original drawings which, instead of simply illustrating the written story, forward the plot. There are also still images which you may recognize. These were taken from several early French movies by a film pioneer whom you’ll meet in the book.

The story revolves around Hugo, a child who lives behind the walls in a Paris train station. Orphaned and taken in by his uncle, the clock keeper for the station, Hugo becomes desperate after his uncle disappears. He is determined not to be discovered so Hugo continues to maintain the clocks in the station, but being unable to cash his uncle’s pay checks he is forced to steal to survive. When not looking after the clocks, Hugo pours over his father’s notebook trying to make sense of the mechanical drawings.

When Hugo is caught stealing from the toy shop in the station, the old shop keeper finds Hugo’s notebook and keeps it. Devastated by this loss, Hugo resolves to find the automaton illustrated in the notebook and bring it back to life. Reconstructing the automaton will bring Hugo, the enigmatic shopkeeper and his god-daughter, Isabelle, together in order to unravel the mystery of the origin of this automaton and its meaning to the shopkeeper.

One hopes that the movie will hold up to the inventiveness of the book, but meanwhile, Brian Selznick has just released a new book, Wonderstruck, another hefty tome coming in at just over 600 pages. The format is similar to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the illustrations in Wonderstruck tell a parallel tale 50 years in the past.

The story told in text is set in 1977 and concerns Ben who is grieving for his mother, killed in a car accident. Ben is determined to find his father who he’s never known and sets off, aided by clues, to find his father in the city. The parallel illustrated story tells of Rose, a deaf child who escapes her room in Hoboken, New Jersey, and makes her way to The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Here, the two compelling stories intertwine and continue. Readers will recognize Brian Selznick’s homage to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in this stunning, original and completely satisfying story.

 Suzanne

Listening to Books

If you’ve ever listened to an audiobook, you probably know that a great narrator can give us a wonderful listening experience (and worse, a poor narrator can ruin a book altogether).

book coverWhen you are looking for your next book to read, you have a variety of methods to choose from, like talking to friends, librarians or searching web resources for recommendations. Though the format is different, the options are similar when you are looking for your next book to listen to. Mary Burker of the publication Booklist is an expert and writes a blog called Audiobooker—a great place to start  searching for your next audiobook.

No matter whether you listen to audiobooks to pass the time while commuting or doing housework, to learn more about a given topic, or just because you are a person who enjoys listening to books, the resources available from AudioFile, a print magazine and also an online resource, are invaluable. AudioFile provides reviews of audiobooks and narrators throughout the year. AudioFile also produces the industry-standard awards for the best audiobooks each year.

book coverJune is National Audiobook month, and the 2011 Audie awards have just been announced—why not give a listen?

Life by Keith Richards (read by Johnny Depp and Joe Hurley, featuring Keith Richards) won audiobook of the Year.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (read by Cassandra Campbell with Bahni Turpin) won for best non-fiction audiobook.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (also an award-winning film), won best fiction audiobook.

There are many other categories and nominees to explore.  As they say in the audiobook community, get caught listening!

Kate