From Eloisa James's "READING ROMANCE" column on The Barnes & Noble Review
When it comes to romance
writers, lifetime membership in the Optimists' Club is practically a
prerequisite. More than the writers of any other genre, we must keep the faith: that a thoughtful,
sexy, and loving relationship is
possible, long-term. But that doesn't mean that we're optimistic about
so-called "perfect" matches or, for that matter, "perfect"
people. Perfection is highly overrated when it comes to love, as these five
Phillips's Call Me Irresistible opens with two
flawless people on the verge of marriage…until the bride's best friend shows
up. Meg is far from perfect: she never graduated from college, and doesn't have
a job, a decent car, or a career. But when she says -- skeptically -- of the groom,
Ted (a gorgeous millionaire with umpteen degrees), "He sounds like Jesus. Except
rich and sexy," the bride realizes that she's not ready to marry a deity.
This plot could easily turn dizzy and light, but instead the novel offers a
fascinating picture of two people who have made a lot of mistakes. Meg truly
has wasted her life, and Ted is so overwhelmed by his own reputation that he
can't emotionally connect with anyone: beneath her banter and his aloof
demeanor is a deep loneliness. Yet for all their antagonism (Ted blames Meg for
his failed wedding), it turns out that they are at their best together. Meg
learns to be responsible, and Ted finds his wild side. But Susan Elizabeth
Phillips doesn't pull her punches: a man who is unavailable emotionally is not
a good lover, no matter how many orgasms are exchanged -- and it takes Ted a long
time to reform. In fact, in the last chapters, when it isn't clear whether Ted
will be able to win Meg back, I defy you not to be turning the pages as fast as
you possibly can read.
In Elizabeth Hoyt's Notorious Pleasures it's the heroine,
rather than the hero, who seems to gaze down from an unapproachable height. Lady
Hero Batten is the daughter of a duke: she's beautiful, tactful, intelligent,
and witty. Even so, she is mortified when her fiancé's brother Griffin mocks
her with the title Lady Perfect. Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is Hero's
polar opposite. His reputation is even worse than Meg's in Call Me Irresistible: he has made himself notorious for drinking,
carousing, and general worthlessness. In reality that façade hides an even more
terrible truth about his activities, as Hero discovers. One of the wonderful
things about this novel is that, like Phillips, Hoyt doesn't underestimate the
challenges of falling in love with someone who has made dreadful decisions. But
it's the downfall of Lady Perfect that gives the book its tantalizing,
seductive pleasure: when Hero wonders whether "she could ever resurrect
her perfect façade again," you'll be rooting for Griffin, sins and all. This
is a novel that laughs in the face of anyone who believes that romances can't
or don't depict the dark side of life -- while still standing up for the idea of
real, long-term happiness.
Courtney Milan's Unveiled also contrasts a
high-born heroine and a flawed hero, but here again, the stakes are much higher
than mere reputation. Lady Anna Margaret Dalrymple is in a dreadful position.
Her ancestral home, Parford Manor, now belongs to a vengeful distant cousin
named Ash Turner; discovery of her father's bigamy has resulted in his children's
disinheritance. Margaret promises herself that "she would be noble, even
if she was no longer considered nobility." But perfection comes at a price.
Since her horrible father is dying in the master bedroom, Margaret poses as a
nurse in order to stay with him. And when she falls in love with Ash, Margaret
finds herself torn between her role as a dutiful daughter and sister, and the
man she loves. Only after she realizes that Ash would sacrifice everything to
make her happy does Margaret understand love is the real yardstick by which we
should measure loyalty.
Jill Shalvis's Animal Magnetism pits the perfectly
sweet, charming Lilah Young against a weary, battle-worn ex-soldier named Brady
Miller. He's spent the last few years in battle zones where "grime and
suffering trumped hope and joy," whereas Lilah lives in a Disney-ish small
town named Sunshine, where everyone loves her and she loves everyone -- including
the baby animals she's surrounded by. In short, she's a princess, and he's a
cynic. Her real perfection (from Brady's point-of-view) is that she accepts his
wandering nature and offers red-hot sex with no strings attached. But, as he
comes to understand, that may sound "perfect. Only it wasn't. Not even
close." This is a wildly sexy, sweet story, as Lilah and Brady realize
that falling in love with a flawed person can be a passionate affirmation of
love's ability to bring people together.
My last romance poses a particularly modern conundrum: what if the person you fall in love with online, your Tweetheart, isn't really as unblemished as his electronic persona seems to be? Teresa Medeiros's Goodnight, Tweetheart moves between text and tweets to depict a love story between a struggling novelist, Abby Donovan, and an English professor on sabbatical, Mark Baynard. Their tweets are fascinating, as they joke about everything from Project Runway to Velveeta. It's impossible not to fall in love with someone as witty and sweet as Mark (he signs off as Goodnight Tweetheart), even though Abby does realize that he's using humor as a defense mechanism. Can someone so glowingly "perfect" ever live up to his Twitter feed? Of all the novels, this one falls most firmly into the "no one is perfect" camp. When Mark reveals a shocking truth about himself, Abby realizes that perfection is deeper than tweets: it's Mark's smile, the smile that says "I will always love you no matter what you've done and no matter what you'll ever do."
My latest romance, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, has just been published -- and as you can imagine, my hero is definitely less than perfect. I chose to rewrite this particular fairy tale because I think that a love story between all-too-human persons is far more interesting than that between "golden boys and girls," as Shakespeare had it. In fact, these novels are a splendid antidote to an overdose of sickly sweet Valentine's Day sentiments. Buy your beloved a card that insists he or she is the perfect match for you -- and then remind yourself that love trumps all those flaws the card pretends don't exist.
"Delightfully inventive." —Chicago Tribune
“Cleverly crafted . . . timeless.” —BookPage
“Tender, funny, and poignant.” —Kristin Hannah
Novelist with writer's block falls for a charming mystery man she meets on Twitter.
Although her swank Plaza Hotel digs might signal otherwise, once-promising writer Abby Donovan's career is not exactly sizzling. Blessed (or cursed) with early fame, she struggles mightily in writing her second book, which is long overdue to her publisher. So when her publicist suggests she promote herself through online social networking, she reluctantly agrees—if only to find another way to procrastinate. Shortly after signing up for Twitter, she catches the attention of Mark Baynard, who quickly recognizes her to be a Tweet virgin. Sharing with her that he is a divorced college professor on sabbatical from Ole Miss, he wins her over with his sarcastic humor and exhaustive knowledge of pop culture. But when he reveals he is actually traveling through Europe for a year, her imagination runs wild, especially when he sends her photos of all the romantic destinations he is visiting. The two quickly develop a rapport, share details of their lives, even go on virtual "dates." A lot can happen in 140 characters or less. Well aware of the false sense of intimacy possible in cyberspace, Abby begins to wonder if taking their relationship to the next level is even possible. Why risk losing what they have? She soon discovers (of course) that her dream man is not exactly who he says he is. She is then left to sort out his truth from the lies, as well as manage her own conflicted emotions.
Medeiros (The Devil Wears Plaid, 2010) gives her well-matched Twitter couple some very funny exchanges, although a melodramatic plot twist toward the end comes across as a little heavy-handed.