Tag Archives: romance novel

In Bed with a Highlander – Maya Banks

In my quest to decipher just what inspires a seven-figure advance to a romance novelist, I tucked into a different series by Maya Banks. In Bed with a Highlander was definitely a better story than the  quasi-military pandering and weird paranormal oddities in the last Banks book I read. This one has a classic story of gruff lord of the keep–laird in this case as we are in Scotland–falling under the spell of the obstinate and spunky young woman who enters his protection unwillingly but eventually romps with great enthusiasm in his bed. Plots of regicide, internal perfidy, threats and violence abound. The characters were as unstable as romance characters usually are–tough and then unaccountably shy and then tough again, no real substance to them. But attractive, volatile, highly-sexed, multi-orgasmic and beset by battles at every turn.

The oddest thing is the way these books are slapped together and marketed, as if the story there is exists only to fill the pages with predictable dangers and sex–and then more danger and more sex, punctuated by startling moments of personal enlightenment in which the main players admit that they love each other. It’s a convention of the genre; it’s fine. But the cover! The cover of In Bed… was truly weird. A battle-scarred Scottish laird, muscled and shaggy, is depicted as a hairless, shirtless bodybuilder from Venice, California wearing a pair of shorts. The heroine, a Scottish bastard with green eyes, Celtic curling hair and clothes of the period is a sinuous Asian vamp with long dark hair and a sort of blue teddy-like thing that has just a little too much fabric in it to be from Victoria’s Secret.  Does this indicate that the publisher believes the intended audience for a Scottish period romance is too stupid to require more than half-naked bodies in a clinch set against a backdrop of green tartan? Tacky.

I’m getting this genre a bit now.  I’ll probably need a few more books to suss out why it is so appealing as a storyline to so many people.  Romance sells like hotcakes–hot romance like hotcakes with real maple syrup. Is it Cinderella for grown-ups, or Sleeping Beauty maybe? I’m puzzled at the flattened-out nature of it but that might just be because I’m not reading more complex, nuanced versions of the basic plot. Murder mysteries are more satisfying, in general, although the badly written ones are as bad as anything unreadable, whatever the genre. So, no more contemporary military types with their bulging jeans and Wal-Mart spectrum of emotions.  I might hunt for historical romantica so there is at least some marginal world-building to examine in between the sighs, moans, poisoned goblets of ale and clashing of bloody swords.

In Bed with a Highlander (McCabe Trilogy)   Maya Banks | Ballantine Books  2011

Scarlet Nights — Jude Deveraux

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I decided to read a romance. Romances are astonishingly popular and sell like candy and, as an underemployed writer, I wondered if writing romance novels might be a more certain way of earning a living than writing corporate marketing brochures or not-for-profit newsletters. Some cursory research later I concluded that romance writers can rest easy—there won’t be any competition from this corner any time soon. Romances are thick with their own conventions and speak an acquired language that is as coded as a tech manual. They have so many specifically defined categories that just picking one to specialize in would be hard. Reading one is another story—much simpler.

Scarlet Nights by Jude Deveraux was a whole bagful of candy, the kind you start eating like potato chips and stop stuffing your face with when you reach the bottom of the bag. The cover is pink. The hero is ripped. The heroine is beautiful, vulnerable, somewhat virginal and a wicked cook. Oh, and Mike the hero can cook, too. He cooks for Sara, the heroine, and he cleans up. Also works out pre-dawn, is a master of every kind of martial art known to humankind and has a hidden compartment in the trunk of his leather-upholstered car loaded with sophisticated weapons. Which he can use—excellent marksman, high-level undercover cop. He is a vulnerable soul as well and wears very expensive clothes, never went to college, likes opera—although he thinks Andrea Bocelli is an opera singer, hmmmm–and makes a mean margarita. What’s not to love about this guy? Heroine does not love him for about 15 minutes. Then she tells herself why she could not possibly love him for about 250 pages.

It’s fun to read. All the women are either besties or hate each other since high school. Most of them are pregnant or want to be. Everyone is having sex like mad, except the hero and heroine, naturally, for a while. And murder is afoot in a small town in which everyone knows everybody else’s business but more or less likes them anyway. I liked the book. The women are spunky and stick up for themselves, despite all being hellbent on procreation. The men are somewhat flummoxed by the feisty women but bravely take charge at every opportunity and do sweet, secret things to keep the lovely ladies safe. There are enough brand names and luxury items to remind you of how life used to be when people actually had money, bought things and occasionally aspired to high thread-count sheets and meals in expensive restaurants.

Sara gets a huge rock, a massive fortune and a major stud. Mike gets a pretty girl, an historic farm and a perfect life. Some very buff men run around bare-legged and bare-chested in kilts which everyone finds incredibly sexy. Hook-ups happen in baths, showers, on tabletops, beds, hand-loomed carpets and the backs of leather-upholstered cars. It’s the magical dream of the fifties come to life in the wrecked 21st century. He’s got your back, everything you ever wanted, an insatiable (but tender) appetite for sex and a jones for you that will never die. She’s got a pure heart, a stubborn streak, non-stop homemaking talents, an art history degree and a fabulous figure.

The story begins at Once upon a time (because who lives like this any more? Who ever did?) and concludes with …and they lived happily ever after (because that’s exactly what you were rooting for, that gauzy life so exactly the opposite of your harried, micro-waved, five-pounds-perpetually-overweight existence). In between there are threats, villains, mysteries, evil plots, long-buried secrets, shocking discoveries and homemade cookies with bits of lavender in them. Cookies with lavender. Beats ordinary chocolate chip with walnut hands-down. There is nothing at all believable in this book. I enjoyed it immensely.

Scarlet Nights: An Edilean Novel   Jude Deveraux |  Atria Books   2010