Kay: What Readers Want

Photo: Black Milk Women

I recently ran across a survey that I thought the other Ladies and their fans might be interested in. The (very) informal survey was conducted by Barbara Linn Probst, a novelist and researcher who holds a Ph.D. in clinical social work. She wanted to know what elements of a novel made a reader love it.

Probst said that the idea for the survey was triggered because as a novelist, she felt that she was thinking like a technician, not a reader. She said that while she focused on characterization, plot development, and pacing, she said that she believed readers didn’t pay attention to those things—unless some massive failure drew a reader’s attention to them. Continue reading

Kay: Keeping It Fresh Forever

Photo by Leonardo Quatrocchi from Pexels

My long-term project (probably years long, the way I’m going) is to read all the books on the bookshelves in my office and then afterwards, move them, and eventually the shelves, out of the house. I’m going to need the space for other things.

The first book I assigned myself was a Virago Modern Classics reprint. These are books by female authors, originally published at other houses, some from many decades previously. Virago has published its Modern Classics imprint since the 1970s, and the [many] books I own are all from this period. So far, they’ve been rather hit-or-miss in terms of how well they’ve held up to #MeToo and #TimesUp sensibilities. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Louise Penny Made Me Read It

Okay, technically the title of this post is not exactly true, since Louise Penny has no idea who I am and we’ve never actually met.  Still, her Inspector Gamache series is definitely responsible for the variety in my recent reading selections.

The series, which I may have mentioned over the past few months that I’ve read a time or two (or more), features an inspector, with (among other things) a fondness for books.  He can periodically be found perusing the shelves at the local bookstore, selecting a slim volume of something, and settling down for a bit of a read.  Not all of the books mentioned actually exist, but some of them do.

Naturally, curiosity prompted me to check a few of them out.

As I mentioned a while back in my Poetry and Prose post, Penny is a big fan of poetry and has incorporated bits and pieces in her stories.  Margaret Atwood, Mike Freeman, and Ralph Hodgson are among the poets she’s mentioned in her author notes.  During a recent visit to the local bookstore, I picked up Atwood’s, Morning in the Burned House, which is a source for some of the poetry for one of Penny’s characters, the drunk demented old poet Ruth.  I spent an enjoyable afternoon reading through it, especially delighted when I found the bits and pieces that Penny had incorporated in her stories. Continue reading

Nancy: What I Learned from Reading Seven Romances in a Week(ish)

Like some of the other ladies on the blog, this year I was a judge for an RWA contest, the RITA. I was tasked with reading seven published books in different contest categories (read: not competing against each other) and given approximately two months to complete and score them. Easy peasy. I would read one contest book per week, record my scores online, and be done in plenty of time.

Er…Um…Well, you know how it goes. I got behind on writing here, picked up books off my TBR pile there, got distracted by a shiny object across the room, and the next thing I knew, I only had two weeks left to read all seven of my entries. Goal: seven romance books in seven days, with a week of wiggle room. Outcome: seven books in ten days. Deadline, schmedline. I finished with four days to spare.

Because I’ve always read in diverse genres and like to mix it up, I’m not sure I’ve ever read that many books in a row in romance or any other single category. This unusual (for me) approach to reading allowed me to compare and contrast the books as a reader and as a writer. Three of the books were quite good. If I’d been reading them in the wild, I would have stuck with them and probably given up some sleep and, for one or two of them, possibly even some writing time to finish the stories. A fourth was also good and I would have finished it, but it would have taken me a few days and several reading sessions to do so. A fifth was just ‘meh’ for me, and absent the requirement to read it for the contest, I might have wandered away from it if I’d had another book waiting. (And honestly, who doesn’t always have another book or ten waiting?) As for the last two books, oy! They would have been DNFs for me if I’d had a choice.

Following are my top takeaways from going all romance, all the time, for seven books and ten days, starting with the good, moving to the bad, and ending with the ugly. Continue reading

Elizabeth: How Does It Hold Up?

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, we recently went through a “Marie Kondo-ish” exercise at work.  According to the posters on the bulletin board, shredding unnecessary paperwork and clearing the detritus off our desktops was all we needed to do to be happier, more productive, calmer little worker bees.

Uh, sure.  Right.

I’m fairly tidy, so the exercise was a moot point for me, but some co-workers managed to shed an amazing quantity of stuff.  So much that it was hard to imagine how they had fit it all in their tiny cubes and offices to begin with.  The jury is still out on whether they are indeed happier, more productive, and calmer.

We have a number of Marie Kondo followers at work who have gone through their homes asking “does this bring me joy” for each item there and ruthlessly weeding out anything that doesn’t generate an immediate “yes” answer.  They seem happy and the thrift stores that get all of their donations are no doubt happy as well, so it’s a win for everyone.

When one friend told me she was turning her sights on her bookshelves however, I gasped in horror.

Get rid of books?

Who does that? Continue reading

Kay: Book Squee! Sort of….

I’m reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, a 2011 New York Times bestseller, which I received as a Christmas gift. Peter Graham, the author, is a retired barrister who worked in Hong Kong and now lives in New Zealand.

Anne Perry is an 80-year-old writer of murder mysteries, who, in 1954 when she was 15, participated in the murder of her best friend’s mother. Perry’s family was set to return to England from New Zealand, and while Perry’s father, a distinguished physicist, went ahead to look for work, she and her mother planned to stay temporarily with friends in South Africa. The girls conceived of the murder plot as a way to stay together. (That idea didn’t make sense then or now, but so it was.)

Because they were juveniles, Perry and her friend, Pauline Parker, served five years for the crime. Perry returned to England and has lived what seems to be an exemplary life ever since, taking up writing as a career when she was 39 and producing, by my count, more than 100 works so far. Continue reading

Nancy: My Recipe for a Delicious Romance Series

As Justine announced yesterday, this week we’re discussing recipes of both the edible and readable kind. As I’ve planned and written and moved toward release of my romance series this past year, I’ve put a lot of thought into what I like in a romance series. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Start with an ensemble cast of characters who each bring something good to the party. Use their interconnected lives to lead us from the story of one happy couple to the next, but be sure to let their individual qualities shine, even when it’s not ‘their book’. When done well, you’ll have me pre-ordering the books that finally give my favorite secondary characters their own romance, like the duke in Slightly Dangerous from Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga series.

Add a generous dollop of inside jokes, memories, and friendly bonding opportunities. Make me feel like I’m in on all the fun even if I haven’t read other books the series, but feel free to repeat or build on these fun themes across books, providing fan service for loyal readers. Think the running joke of the terrible music created  by the Smythe-Smith Quartet (with the musician line-up changing for each annual performance) from Julia Quinn’s The Bridgertons series.

Sprinkle in a bit of past HEAs. Show me the couples who got together in past books, still together, still happy, still interacting like they did in the book of their own love story. It shouldn’t be so heavy-handed that having read those other books in the series is a prerequisite to understanding the current book, but it should be enough to tempt me to pick up those other books to find out how the settled couples found their own happy endings together. The books in Anne Stuart’s House of Rohan series always include at least a few of the happy couples, made up of reformed rakes paired with strong women, from previous books. These happy couples guide, advise, and generally annoy the bejesus out of the couple currently struggling toward their own HEA.

Mix all ingredients together into a multi-book series, pair with a good red wine, and serve over a long weekend with nothing to do but read!

And now, an actual recipe… Continue reading