Goodbye, 2014. Please don’t come back!

 Sunset Canberra Australia Halloween 31st October 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

I wrote a blog post at the end of last year, titled Good Riddance to 2013. 2014 was a very strange year…

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Of course, there were some great things. I had a month in Spain, some time in Sweden, multiple trips around the country to see both ballet and the Formula One.

There were some great things in with the bad!

russia invades Ukraine 2014

However Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a very personal thing for me – and for my family. From having our Ukrainian church here trashed, to the death threats our Ukrainian friends received nonstop, to the fact my own family members in Ukraine lost their homes and their livelihoods… To face a whole year of relentless propaganda against you and your kind is a horrible thing – all the more so because people were willing to believe the worst. The fact not a single person in the world seemed to give a damn about what Russia did and the thousands of people they killed really tested my faith in humanity. I was and always will be very angry about the whole situation.

My year was nowhere near as productive as it should have been. I’m hoping I can actually keep some resolutions in 2015, but life has a tendency to get in the way all too often.

Kittens Qeanbeyan Australia 2nd November 2014

On a better note, I went from being someone who really didn’t like cats, to raising stray kittens. Definitely not something I expected to ever happen.

I promised myself 2014 would be the year I read a lot of romantic suspense, but instead it became a year I read so much historical romance I didn’t have much time for any other genres. It was the year I read next to no straight contemporary stories, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I think I’ve become much more critical in my reading, and have become more and more aware of misogyny and offensive politics in women’s fiction genres. I find myself dropping books for things I wouldn’t have had a problem with before.

The historical romance genre is far from perfect, and the more extensive research I do about behaviours and dialogue of the times, the less tolerant I am of wallpaper romance. And yet I keep on reading the genre! My Best Of list for the year is mostly historical fiction.

However, I don’t think overall 2014 delivered me the best books. I wonder whether it’s really the books, or that I’M changing!

I don’t know what 2015 will bring, but it seems I shouldn’t have any plans, because nothing ever happens the way you expect.

Best of 2014

As with every year, these are – in no particular order – the books that entertained me the most this year. Many of them are 2014 releases, but not all of them!

I hadn’t planned on my reading to go the way it did this year. I expected to read more suspense than I did, and my ongoing obsession with historical fiction really derailed things!

 

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

night broken_front mech.indd

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare Second Cover

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Surrender by Pamela Clare

Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers #1) by Pamela Clare

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A 1950s Housewife (nonfiction) by Sheila Hardy

 A 1950s Housewife by Sheila Hardy

 

And a book that will be released in 2015:

 

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

Romantic Suspense is Dead?

Kaylea Cross Pamela Clare Cindy Gerard Romantic Suspense Book Covers

There are amazing romantic suspense writers. Writers like these.

I was fairly horrified by the announcement of the 2014 RITA Award finalists. Not entirely, and not in every situation, but there was a lot of dismay being felt as I read the list.

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about the death of the historical romance genre. No new ideas, a distinct lack of history being applied to the fluffy stories, sales dropping, no new authors being picked up – it has all been said many times.

And yet there’re seventeen historical romance books on that list (the fact so many of them are about blasted dukes is a matter for another day).

As for romantic suspense? Four. And I’ve only heard of one of the authors, and haven’t read any of the books. Hmm.

Now, the biggest problem here is actually the RWA organisation behind the awards. They’ve been in trouble in the past for being far too conservative in their outlook (the 2005 RITA ceremony was a disaster because politics was dragged into it). Now, their problem is that the romance genre is expanding and moving in new directions, and they’re fighting back by only recognising books with no plot points other than the main romance as romances.

I wish they’d explain to me how a genre like romantic suspense, that is about crime and warzones and stalkers and danger, is supposed to get enough points to become a RITA finalist if they don’t recognise good storytelling outside of the lovey dovey stuff!

I think this has been happening for a while now. In the past, too many of the romantic suspense books turning up as RITA finalists have been those with tiny suspense plots and a whole lot of love declarations (and an excessive amount of sex). Not all of them, of course, but books I’d have given one or two star to are making it in, while some of the best-crafted books I’ve read have missed out.

However, there’s no denying romantic suspense is in trouble. RT Magazine wrote about it recently. It’s craziness and also upsetting to me, as of every romance subgenre, it is my favourite. There ARE some amazing authors out there (take a look at how many on my favourites shelf on Goodreads are suspense books), but the genre as a whole seems to be struggling. Pretty much any book you pick up these days that is marketed as romantic suspense is actually a paranormal romance. And that’s not what I’m looking for.

What happened? Or is it a rhetorical question – because I more or less know what happened. At the start of the year I discussed what I’d like to see happen in romantic suspense (my top wish is for people to ease up on Navy SEALs as shorthand for “hot heroic guy”).

Contemporary romance boomed in the past few years. More specifically, small town, old-fashioned, almost hokey Americana boomed. I’ve read all kinds of explanations for it, including something about people liking cosy reads in times of war. I think it’s all a bit ridiculous.

Then the dreaded New Adult subgenre was created out of thin air, and apparently everybody got their fix of “hot heroic guy” from those books. Unfortunately for anybody who isn’t a fan of misogyny and immaturity in their books, New Adult is no compensation for the loss of romantic suspense.

The whole romance world is all about fads. The billionaire craze in category romance (and now erotic romance, too). All those bloody dukes in historical romance. War veterans returning to small town America to marry the local cupcake shop owner in contemporary romance.

And Navy SEALs in romantic suspense.

The problem is that even if a few of these books are good, how many times can you read the same thing? Publishers couldn’t care less about quality; they just want to crank out as many carbon copies of The Current Big Thing as they can until they kill a genre entirely, and then move on. Like what they did to Hot Vampires.

We live in a world of lots of scary and exciting things. There’re conflicts and protests and wars. There’re huge social issues. There’re so many fascinating topics for the romantic suspense genre.

And all we get is a dwindling number of Hot Navy SEAL Hero books featuring Hot Tattooed Gun-Toting SEAL Man who has next to nothing to do with the military people he is supposed to represent.

It’s disheartening – much more so than the state of historical romance at the moment.

Yet I have no idea what can be done about it.

The Week: 27th January – 2nd February

Canberra Australia City Sunset 25th January 2014 Sonya Heaney

We’re having another heatwave in Canberra! Ugh – 30°C every day in summer would be lovely. 40°C every day – not so much.

I read an excellent book this week, about life in 1950s Britain. I’ll review it soon. I also picked up Outlander again, because the trailers for the television adaptation look fantastic. My copy had a bookmark at page 166 from when I put it down in 2011. I went on a trip to Ukraine and never picked it up again!

outlander-television-miniseries-still-claire-and-jamie

Only one book post and one book review this week, but I’ll make it up next week!

What I want out of 2014 – New Adult

Easy by Tammara Webber

My review of Highlander Mine by Juliette Miller

Highlander Mine by Juliette Miller

The Week: 20th – 26th January

Happy Australia Day!

Ukraine Protest

This has been a horrible week – not for me personally, but for the country half my family members are from: Ukraine.

Something that has infuriated me my whole life is that everyone thinks Ukraine (note: not THE Ukraine – that’s an insulting term for the country) is just an extension of Russia. Every Ukrainian celebrity, sportsperson, writer, artist, composer, Cossack, warrior, borsch! is known by most people as “Russian” – which means nobody knows anything about Ukraine’s struggles against Russia.

ukrainian soldiers shooting at a priest

As a consequence, the Western media has been reporting the current situation in Ukraine in total ignorance. Unarmed people are being tortured, murdered, shot by snipers, and nobody understands what’s going on. The (pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian) Ukrainian government has just ordered so much new ammunition that it’s clear they’re preparing for a serious war situation.

Protests in Kyiv Ukraine

I have family members in the middle of the protests in the capital city, Kyiv (note: not KIEV – that’s the Russian name!). One is guarding one of the entrances to the heart of the protests. To know there’re snipers there, ready to take out anyone they think is protesting too enthusiastically… well, it’s not a good time for my family, or for Ukraine.

On another note, here is my week in books:

What I want out of 2014 – Contemporary Romance

Sarah Mayberry Julie James Contemporary Romance Book Covers

My review of Unleashing Mr Darcy by Teri Wilson

Unleashing Mr Darcy by Teri Wilson

My review of Once Upon a Valentine by Allison Leigh

Once Upon a Valentine by Allison Leigh

My review of When the Rogue Returns by Sabrina Jeffries

When the Rogue Returns by Sabrina Jeffries

What I want out of 2014 – Contemporary Romance

Contemporary Romance seems to be *the* thing at the moment. It’s a good thing I like to read it! However, when the market is saturated with something, you start to notice the same themes turning up again and again. And again. Here are some suggestions for where I’d like to see the genre go:

  • Fewer cosy little towns. Most people don’t live in them, and the chances of hundreds of highly-educated, career-minded supermodels (who may or may not be billionaires and Special Forces soldiers) in their twenties and thirties populating them are very slim. Let’s see some regular-sized towns, if not cities!

Sarah Mayberry Julie James Contemporary Romance Book Covers

That rare thing: the contemporary romance that is set in a city!

  • Nice men. Being a total, misogynistic dickhead is not a turn-on. How about ‘heroes’ who don’t refer to every woman except the heroine as ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ (I’m looking at you, Travis). Fewer ‘heroes’ who solve every grievance with their fists. Fewer ‘heroes’ who hang out in bars looking for sex, but then treat the women they pick up like garbage. Because, hey, guys, you’re not exactly doing the chaste thing yourself! How about some feminist sort of heroes? The kind of men who believe in equality? Who understand the concept of respect? They can be just as tough and hot and sexy and heroic (in fact, more so!) without channelling their inner Todd Akin!
  • Heroines who aren’t ideal women according to 1924. The term ‘real women’ is offensively misused every day (I’m just as female even though I’m not plus sized!), but I want real real women! The twenty-five year olds who meet their friends at a bar for a glass of wine, not the twenty-five year olds who hang out in their grandmother’s bakery crocheting, quilting and sipping ice tea. Characters who are capable of being good people even though they’re not interested in staying home and raising a passel of children (women who don’t want children are always, always the villains in romances!). Characters who know the internet exists. Characters who have aspirations to travel the world – and actually do it.
  • Some new settings. There’s more to the world than rural Texas and Tennessee!

What I want out of 2014 – Romantic Suspense

I have a great love of romantic suspense, but I hardly read any suspense books in 2013.

Here’s what I’d like to see in 2014 – the things that would encourage me to seek out the genre more often:

  • Ease up on the Navy SEALs! It has become so clichéd it’s practically a joke. Navy SEALs popping up in stories about small town bakeries. Navy SEALs babysitting. Navy SEALs who also happen to be billionaire businessmen and Nobel Prize winners. Navy SEALs running BDSM clubs in their spare time (didn’t know they had THAT much spare time!). There’re other military men worthy of your attention. Unless SEALs particularly fit into your storyline, please stop including them!

Navy SEAL Romance Book Covers

Every man and his dog is a Navy SEAL these days!

I’ve not read any of the books above, so please don’t take this as a criticism of them in particular!

  • A move back to real romantic suspense. The subgenre has divided into two parts; neither of which #1 fits definitions of ‘romantic suspense’ or #2 interests me as much. The first direction is to give all the characters magical, paranormal abilities. If I wanted mind reading and magic ocean-crossing healing powers, I’d be reading paranormal romance. If I want contemporary romance with any suspense a distant, distant, distant second, I’d pick up a contemporary romance.
  • Fewer ‘secret league of stupendously strong men operating major (yet still somehow secret) security companies on US soil’ and instead, more:

Kaylea Cross Pamela Clare Cindy Gerard Romantic Suspense Book Covers

  • Books that deal with real life issues. The world is a messy, dangerous place. There’s no need to manufacture moustache-twirling mega-villains who represent nobody in particular when there’re so many real issues you could be dealing with. I want more Kaylea Crosses and Pamela Clares. More Cindy Gerards. More authors willing to do the research to create suspense stories involving current issues and brave enough to use settings that actually exist. Books grounded in the gritty reality, that’s what I want!

The Week: 6th – 12th January

Canberra Australia Sunset 9th January 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksna Heaney

Canberra’s gorgeous sunset on Friday night.

This week was all about Christmas – again! It was Ukrainian Christmas; we celebrate on the 6th, but the actual day is the 7th.

Ukrainian Christmas Canberra Australia 5th January 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

What I want out of 2014 – Historical Romance

Historical Romance Duke Book Covers

My review of Montana Bride by Joan Johnston

Montana Bride (A Bitter Creek Novel) by Joan Johnston

My review of The Earl’s Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas

The Earl's Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas

My review of Everywhere She Goes by Janice Kay Johnson

Everywhere She Goes by Janice Kay Johnson

My review of The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

The Countess Conspiracy Book 3 in the Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan

What I want out of 2014 – Historical Romance

My historical wishlist for 2014:

  • People other than dukes can be sexy, too. In fact, they can probably be sexier! Historical romance has gone the route of Harlequin Presents a few years ago, when they wouldn’t allow heroes who didn’t have the word ‘billionaire’ in their titles. Unless it’s a trusted author, I’m not likely to pick up a book with ‘duke’ in the title these days. It’s very clichéd, especially considering most dukes were aged dandies. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but not for an entire nation of studly, six+ feet tall, six-pack-owning dukes!
  • Fewer books with combinations of Scandal/Scandalous, Wicked and Duke in the title.

Harlequin Presents Billionaire Book Covers

Historical Romance Duke Book Covers

They were all billionaires. Now they’re all dukes!

Note that me including these covers doesn’t mean I don’t like the books!

  • Variety? I’ve been saying for a while now I want to see more books set in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. I’m NOT talking about Westerns (because there’re so many of those already). But how about everywhere else in North America? All of that history and all of those big events? Why are there so many historical romance authors from America but none writing about this stuff?! Please write it. I’ll pay you for it. 🙂

Sara Donati Book Covers

More of these, please!

  • Less sex, more anticipation. I’ve recently been watching a few period dramas, and there’s so much sexual tension between characters. And, no, the gentlemen don’t take respectable young ladies they’ve just met into spare rooms and introduce them to orgasms – and especially not without ruining them! Give me a plot and some relationship development, please. I beg you!

Period Drama Romance Pride and Prejudice Cranford

  • A little more care with proper nouns. In other words, authors and editors not changing the spelling of British place names to suit their US language option on Microsoft Word! I don’t care if you spell harbour, ‘harbor’, and theatre, ‘theater’, it doesn’t mean you get to change the spelling of place names in Britain (or Australia, or New Zealand or anywhere else!). For example, I nearly DNF’d a book recently because Portsmouth Harbour had been given a name-change (bet Portsmouth didn’t know about that!). Actually, it happens in contemporary romance, too. Harlequin decided to rename Sydney Harbour last year!