Friday, May 21, 2010

Swappable Books - And a Contest!

I conducted an unscientific experiment today.  I went down to my "keeper" bookshelves and counted all of the series contemporaries that were published by companies or lines now nestled under the corporate umbrella known as Harlequin Enterprises.  So, Silhouettes, Mills & Boon, and Harlequins -- I counted them all.

My real purpose was to divide them up by decade of publication by the original publisher.  I segregated the Betty Neels books simply because they otherwise overwhelm the sample.

Here's what I found:
From the 1960s: 10 (3 BN)
From the 1970s:  5 (43 BN)
From the 1980s:  35 (37 BN)
From the 1990s:  25 (46 BN)
From the 2000s:  4 (6 BN)
From 2010: none

There are some surprises here -- where are all the Mills & Boon and Harlequins from the seventies?  I would have thought I had more than a dozen Anne Hampsons and Anne Mathers and Anne Weales (all those Annes!) but if I did, I don't any more.  I hadn't realized I had so many (relatively speaking) books from the 1960s; mostly I was surprised that some of the books I love actually date back that far; their plots and characters seemed less dated (at least in my memory).

What doesn't surprise me is that I have so few books from the 2000s.  Of the four I have, two are by Linda Howard and two by Gina Wilkins -- both authors much better represented in the 80s and 90s.  What that means is I have no keepers among authors who a) write series contemporaries and b) got started in the late 90s or 2000s.

I do read those books.  I know this because I have 23 recent series contemporaries listed at PaperBackSwap.  They were all well recommended on AAR or elsewhere; one was even in someone's top ten list for 2009.  I enjoyed them all.  None is a keeper.  In fact, the idea for this post came as I was reading Nancy Warren's Under the Influence, a DIK at AAR.  I loved the book, was glad I got it, but I won't keep it.  There's nothing in there I need to hold onto for future rereading.  It's a swappable book.

What's up with this?  Why do I have 75 keepers from the last century and only 4 from the past decade?  Well, as we know, correlation is not the same as causation, so one thing I don't know for a fact is that Harlequin Enterprises isn't publishing as many keeper series contemporaries as they did back in the 80s and 90s.  That may turn out to be a true statement, but there are a lot of reasons why it might not be.  Let me count the ways:

§    I might not have kept a vast majority of the books I currently have shelved as "keepers" if I'd bought them in the 2000s.  I know it's not the null set -- I have reread a few of them recently enough to know they aren't going anywhere! -- but it could be a teeny-tiny number compared to what's there now.  Similarly, I might have kept most or all of the 23 books from the 2000s I'm offering to swap, had I read them back in the day.  That's just a fancy way of saying, I've grown up and my tastes have changed.

That's all okay, but it misses a key point.  As I've previously discussed here, I love angsty goodness, and a lot of the books (>30%, I'd guess) of the contemporaries I've held onto have lots of angsty goodness.  At that rate, I ought to have found a few angsty books among the 23 I'm swapping, but it's not happened.  Sex, yes -- there are body parts mentioned *by name* that weren't even hinted at back in the 80s! -- but not delicious angst.  I dunno, maybe the recommendations didn't reflect angst -- but that's not really evidence that there are other, angsty 21st century contemporaries out there that I'm missing because I didn't see the recommendations for them.

§   Contemporaries are out of favor, so the caliber of writing found in Harlequin or Silhouette series novels in the 80s and 90s is now found in paranormals or YA or urban fiction.  I guess I don't understand this argument, given the assumption we all have about the vast number of writers submitting to agents or directly to Harlequin.  Harlequin/Silhouette/M&B publishes dozens of contemporaries every month, and that number must pale in comparison to the number of writers' manuscripts that get rejected.   People are writing contemporaries and people are reading contemporaries, so why aren't more of the series contemporaries out there better?  Why aren't more of them up to the standards of Glenda Sanders or Barbara Delinsky, say?

§  I'm too fussy.  Well, that is a true statement, and maybe it explains why I'm swapping 23 books that others have opted to keep.  A corollary proposition may also be true, namely that as I'm trying to write a contemporary -- a book I rather suspect I wouldn't "keep" unless it undergoes some major "personality implants" in the second and third drafts! -- I'm going to be hypercritical of others' efforts in the same genre.  Hey, I may be the problem here.  That's always a plausible answer!

So here's the challenge/opportunity to my readers:

Recommend an angsty series contemporary from 2000 to today that I won't be able to swap and so will make me eat my words!  If I've already read it (and it's thus one of the 23 waiting for a new & loving home at PBS), I'll tell you and you can suggest an alternate title.  If it isn't, I'll get the book, read it & discuss it here at Promantica.  I'll even eat my words (if they can be written on Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies...).

The winner -- the first person to suggest a series contemporary published in the 2000s that I want to keep -- will get a prize: a $20 (or approximate value in the currency of your choice) gift certificate to the book store of your choice.

Here's the fine print:  one recommendation per commenter, comments will be logged by date & time and I'll read the books in the order in which they were suggested, all comments must be logged by June 1, 2010.


  1. I don't need to be entered for the prize, but here are my recs:

    THE OLDER WOMAN, Cheryl Reavis
    LOST CAUSE, Janice Kay Johnson
    Judith Arnold's books start in the 90s, I think, but then keep going.

  2. Victoria -- Of course you're entered! In fact, you and I could meet up at the bookstore of your choice . . . or lunch or coffee.

    I have ordered the Reavis & Johnson books, and two Judith Arnolds that I hope are among her books published in the past ten years. Dr. Dad and Hidden Treasures.

    I will let you know!

  3. Victoria -- As you're technically only allowed one entry, which book (of the four I'm getting) do you want as YOUR official recommendation?

  4. I absolutely adore Kay Hooper's Bishop/Special Crimes Unit's a wicked group of books.

    Stealing Shadows: February, 2000
    Hiding in the Shadows: October-November, 2000
    Out of the Shadows: January, 2001

    Touching Evil: November, 2001
    Whisper of Evil: March, 2002
    Sense of Evil: June, 2002

    Hunting Fear: September, 2002
    Chill of Fear: April, 2003
    Sleeping With Fear: July, 2003

    She also has the Blood trilogy out now...Blood Dreams, Blood Sins, Blood Ties. *all fantabulous*


  5. DR. DAD is on my TBR! I'd go with the Reavis, I guess. I haven't read it in years but I still recommend it to people, so it stuck with me. I'm newer to Johnson.

    Have never tried Kay Hooper, should go hunt on bookmooch!

  6. @s7anna--
    Well, technically Hooper's Bishop books wouldn't count for Magdalen's challenge as they aren't a Harlequin type series. Tho' Hooper did get her start with Loveswept back in the day. I really love the books--but they are rom-suspense with psychic overtones; not really angsty, just deliciously creepy!
    Magdalen, I have no titles to offer as I kinda gave up on series romance when my favorite authors (JAK, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, etc) left Harlequin/Silhouette and went on to other publishers.
    But you did bring back some good memories by mentioning the Annes (Mather, Weale(read all of hers!)and Stuart). I was also fond of Robyn Donald(and I have a couple of her early ones on my keeper shelves).
    Good luck with your challenge!

  7. Linda Howard's last Harlequin was A Game of Chance, the wrapup to the Mackenzie series. I love that little book! She masterfully, I tell you, brings them all together in a scene that brought a tear to my eye. If you don't like it, please don't tell me. :)


  8. Oh my, what Diana said: I know exactly the scene she's referring to. I almost think Linda Howard must be another person, her current books are so different! I'm too tired right now to answer all those questions and THINK so I will return!

  9. I think part of the conundrum is that, back in the 60s and even up to the early-mid nineties there were limited publishing opportunities outside of Harlequin for romances. (Not taking into consideration bodice rippers.) Single titles didn't really start growing til the nineties, and they pretty much started off the back of category authors, Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, Kay Hooper..
    Whereas now the genre has grown so massively, that there are multiple areas to be published in, using Harlequin as a springboard is no longer that necessary? The authors are going straight to single title?
    That is just my interpretation anyways.

    Though I also think the widening romance genre has also had an impact on tastes, while I was quite satisfied glomming categories back in the day when they were all that I could get my hands on, now I barely read them as my needs are met elsewhere in the genre. IYKWIM

  10. Hi Magdalen--
    After entering my previous comment, I went to my keeper shelves and found Considering Kate by Nora Roberts, one of her last for Silhouette, pub date 2001. It is the wrap up for her Stanislaski family saga. So I dragged it out for a quick re-read and loved it (and went through half a box of tissues, as I always do with this book.) I don't know if you could call it "angsty" but it sure does pluck my heartstrings.
    It can stand on its own, but you get an extra bit of warmth if you've read the others in the series.

  11. Diana -- I'm pretty sure A Game of Chance is one of the two Linda Howards I already have from the 2000s. I disallow those because I keep all of hers and have for a long time now. But in your & Janet's honor, I'll reread it. :-)

    s7anna -- I've ordered Stealing Shadows, so we'll see what I think. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Janet -- Come back anytime and tell me what to read! :-)

    Eddie -- What you say may be true, but here's why it shouldn't work that way: You would think that with more romances being written and published than ever before, there should be more "books-so-good-I-can't-bear-to-part-with-them," i.e., keepers, in all categories. That would suggest that among the authors who get their start with Harlequin/Silhouette/Mills & Boon there ought to be keeper authors. [I just need to say again that according to AAR, authors like Nancy Warren qualify as keeper authors. It really could be my crankiness at work here!)

    I wonder if you might not be right, though, in one particular way. Let's say the keeper authors just getting started get agents, and those agents get them book deals other than with Harlequin Enterprises lines. The only flaw I can see is, where are these keeper authors? Julie James? Kristin Higgins? Or -- are these the people who eschew contemporaries entirely and opt to write urban fantasy and/or paranormal romances?

    bafriva -- I have ordered Considering Kate, so let's see. (Are you sure I don't need to read the rest of the Stanislawskis first?)

  12. I'm back: thanks for the reminder! OK, I'm going to ignore all Nora ideas ... if you have not read her MacGregor series, get 'em fast: they're great! -- Virginia Vantra wrote about the MacNeill Brothers (plus the Mad Dog and Annie book) in 2000 for Silhouette, I think. They're good: fall in the Roberts/Howard style imo.

  13. I'm going to second bafriva on "Considering Kate". It's my favorite Nora Roberts series romance. I don't think you need to have read the Stanislaskis to enjoy the book, mostly because its fantastic, very heart-tugging, and the hero is super yummy. But reading them makes the secondary characters easier to understand and you appreciate them more. All of those were Silhouette SE (I'm pretty sure) published in the 1990s and 2000s. If you are looking for some vintage Nora, this is a good place to start.

    I rarely read series books because the all feel the same, but "Considering Kate" remains on my shelf even when the rest of the books in the series have long been traded.

  14. You already have some great recomendations here, but I'll add one of my favorites: COMING HOME TO YOU by Fay Robinson. Well, I love all her books and I really recomend them all, but if I have to pick just one, this is it, closely followed by A Man Like Mac. They are keepers for me :o)

  15. Janet W. -- I've ordered Virginia Kantra's Passion of Patrick MacNeill, so you're officially in the running!

    Elizabeth -- I've got Considering Kate on the way. Generally speaking, Nora Roberts books aren't keepers for me, but there's always the change this will be the exception to that rule.

    Juliet -- Okay, I've ordered both books by Fay Robinson, so when they get here, I'll read & report!

    Everyone -- The deadline for submitting titles is tonight at midnight. I've already started to read the suggested titles, so I'll do a post in the next couple of days on how that's going. Thanks to everyone for thinking about this problem. I'm really hoping I fall deeply in love with one (or more) of these books so I can give out the prize!


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