Romance is in the air – except if you’ve been attending the Sydney Writers Festival (SWF).
The lack of romance writers appearing at the festival prompted Gabby at Book Thingo to write an Open Letter in protest. This was followed up by a piece by Jodi McAlister on Momentum’s blog, “Why the romance genre is interesting, relevant and important — even if you think it’s bad”.
By far the most creative response was the initiative #loveromance, brainchild of Gabby, Kat of Book Thingo and talented graphic artist Jennifer Wu. They issued a rallying cry to SWF participants to bomb events at the festival with postcards featuring mashed-up covers of classics – as if they were romance titles. These included, My Brilliant Career, Tess of the d’Urbervilles – “A classic bodice ripper… without the happy ending” – and, my favourite, The Picture of Dorian Gray: “It gives men unrealistic expectations of debauchery – a dangerous book.”
With so much attention not focused on romance writers among Australia’s literary community, it’s with regret that this post is so long in coming. Running a team of volunteers isn’t always easy, especially as many of our round-up editors have day-jobs, their own blogs, and do behind-the-scenes tasks. Marg, our usual Romance editor (who has also been doing Historical Fiction) wasn’t able to do the round-up this month, so I’ve stepped in.
Instead of the usual discussion of how many books classified as romance were reviewed in April (27), how many reviewers (9), who wrote the most reviews (Lauredhel on Goodreads: 5), and how many authors in total were reviewed (22), I’m going to take a different tack. I’m going to review the reviews.
Was it Blaise Pascal who wrote something like: “Apologies this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one”?
AWW reviewers could take note. Many of the reviews are wordy. Worse, some give a (long) summary of the story before getting to their assessment. For one reviewer, the summaries take up almost all the alloted space, followed by a (very short) assessment at the end. Who does this serve? The author? I doubt it. Other readers? Not me.
Maybe I’m specially sensitive after attending the Random House Australia’s National Book Bloggers Forum last week. Listening to RHA’s tech gurus, one thing was clear: book bloggers are competing against multiple other demands for readers’ attention. We have to be smart about how we approach things. (You can read my 5 take-home tips from the forum for increasing your blog traffic here.)
April’s most engaging romance reviews gave a very brief idea what the story is about, then went on to discuss its merits and shortcomings.
Standouts in this regard were lauredhel’s, including:
- Nicole Haddow’s novella Tweethearts – “a friends-to-lovers storyline”
- Rachael John’s The Kissing Season– “a sweet, uncomplicated romantic holiday novella”
- Margareta Osborn’s Mountain Ash – “a novel for those who love flawed characters” and
- Georgie Tyler’s Doctors Beyond Borders – “fling-turned-deeper workplace romance”.
In her reviews, lauredhel gives a flavour of the story without going into too much detail, and her criticisms (and there are a few!) are done in a way that makes each book sound interesting – even when it isn’t to her taste.
Kudos, also, to Sam Still Reading, for her engaging use of visuals. Alongside the cover photo, Sam gives us a thumbnail impression of what the book is about, the “good” and the “not-so-good”, before going into more detail, such as in her reviews of:
- London’s Last True Scoundrel by Christina Brooke,
- Viveka Portman’s The Secret Diary of Lady Catherine Bexley and
- Rebecca Raisin’s Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Cafe.
Another standout who always manages to hook (this) reader, is Monique of Write Note Reviews. Some of Monique’s choices are probably more contemporary fiction than straight romance, including Kylie Kaden’s Losing Kate and Fiona McCullum’s Time Will Tell, but whatever she’s reviewing, Monique always manages to make the books sound interesting. One of her favourites for April was Helene Young’s romantic suspense novel, Safe Harbour.
As for the other reviews? You can find links to all the Romance, Romantic Suspense and Erotica reviews on the Australian Women Writers Review Listings page.
Finally, just in case you think I’ve been too critical, I’d like to add that everyone who links their reviews, discussions, book-giveaways and author interviews to the challenge is making a valuable contribution. Each one helps to showcase books by Australian women – even if some reviews are not to my taste. Having said that, I have to wonder about author Kate Belle’s inclusion of “Natasha Walker’s” Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings in the challenge. Kate makes it clear that the author is a man!
What do you think? Read any good romance reviews lately?
Elizabeth Lhuede founded the Australian Women Writers Challenge as part of the National Year of Reading in 2012. When not writing, she reviews books at Devoted Eclectic, and recently set up a new blog under her pen-name, Lizzy Chandler. She tweets under both names, as well as @auswomenwriters. One of her novels, Her Man From Snowy River Country, a short contemporary rural romance with a psychic heroine, was recently accepted for publication by Harlequin Escape.