Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Analyzing The Top Ten

On one of my romance groups, the moderator asked us to look at our list of favorites and say why we loved them. I looked at mine and this is what I came up with:

1.Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
--I could write a thesis on how wonderful this book is. Most of all I love the hero. Dain is a strong, masculine, sexy but oh-so vulnerable hero who has more money and land than he knows what to do with. But he really truly needs to be loved. Dain must be one of my all time favorite heroes. His story is so sad I could weep. But he's a bad boy. He claims only to love himself. However, it's soon made clear that he hates himself because no one ever showed him that he was worthy of love. Jessica, the heroine is so amazing. If I could pick a romance heroine I would want to be friends with I would pick her. She is strong and independent. She had the fortitude to go after the man she wants, take him warts and all, but clean up the mess in his life, and heal his heart, and not turn into a whimp in the process. She actually shoots him (he deserved it). There are scenes that make you cry and in the next scene you are laughing out loud. This book should be Romance Writing 101. I love the scene when he acknowledges his son. I had tears rolling down my cheeks.
This is my all time favorite romance hands down!
2.The Shadow and The Star by Laura Kinsale
--Samuel was an amazing hero. He was a warrior, a virgin, wounded, and very passionate under all that control. Leda was a heroine that you would like and could identify with. The writing was like poetry. The writing is artistry. I love the way Kinsale captured the repressed emotions that signify the Victorian period to me. The characters aren't anachronistic like some books. They are deeply at home in the Victorian setting. Their morals and beliefs aren't Millennial. So some readers may not fall in love with them the way I did. The love scenes are so vivid and intense you feel like you are in the room with the characters. You feel the revelatory emotions that Samuel and Leda feel (both virgins).
3.Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
--The ultimate love story with a flawed hero who pulled himself out of the gutter and became a millionaire. He's still rough around the edges and utterly real. He becomes Prince Charming to you despite his crooked tooth, guttural Cockney dialect, and rough manners. He falls hard for Sara and acts like someone truly in love. Just reading how much he loved Sara made me weep. Kleypas is a wonderful writer. She knows romance. She knows that romance is ecstasy mixed with angst. Pleasure and pain. This book is lush and poignant. One of the best and most memorable love stories ever written.
4.All Through The Night by Connie Brockway
--This one isn't a light romantic romp. You feel all the darkness that envelops Jack and Anne. You feel Jack's world-weariness (he reminds me of Kiefer Sutherland on 24 as Jack Bauer). Anne is actually two women: One an ever so proper and repressed widow. The other a fearless, sensual jewel thief. There is a great scene where she 'molests' Jack while he is tied to a chair. It was great and so different from anything I've ever read. This book has two tortured characters who are alone in the dark until they find each other, passion, love, and healing. At the end of the book you almost sigh in relief because you're not quite certain they'll get their happy ending. But they do!
5.A Well-Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd
--This book is sexy, a little bit different. Tons of chemistry between Mary and Sebastian, reluctant at first. A hero who isn't lilly white. But neither is the heroine. Mary is very very repressed. She doesn't want to feel anything. And Sebastian wants her to feel everything and realize that he won't be ignored. This book sparked controversy among readers, dividing them into two different camps, all because of the first love scene. I was floored by the emotion in that scene. I had been reading romances for over ten years when I read this and it made me sit up and take notice. This book shows that love isn't always a pretty emotion, but the power of it can save a person.
6.Rules of Engagement by Christina Dodd
--Pamela is a strong woman who conquers the heart of a rake. She seduces him in this one. Light-hearted, well-written and sexy. This is a good book to read after you've read a heavy book or had a rough weak. It will leave you rejuvenated. But don't feel like you won't get your money's worth if you buy this one. Although it's light there is emotion and depth or I wouldn't love it.
7.Some Enchanted Evening by Christina Dodd
--Princess Clarice is independent, a survivor. She's become a bit of a con artist to survive, staying just a few steps in front of her powerful enemies, and knowing that she needs to go home but may never be able to return there. When she ends up in Hepburn's village she's planning to stay just long enough to recoup her losses. The Earl of Hepburn is a bit of a rogue who thinks he's in control. He had been forced at an early age to take control of the situation, after all. He's had a whole village depending on him. He's returned from war where all his illusions were lost, having been betrayed by a superior officer. Black and white don't exactly exist and he's out for revenge. He intends to use Clarice to get his revenge, believing Clarice to be the type to go along quite easily with his plans for the right compensation. And if he wants her in his bed, he'll manage that as well. In the process he falls in love. And when he falls, he falls hard. The characters were vivid and interesting. The love scenes were wonderfully steamy. I loved the fact the hero and heroine both had their secrets and flaws. Another fun but fulfilling read!
8.The Texan's Wager by Jodi Thomas
--I love this hero. Carter McKoy is very unusual for a romance hero. He doesn't talk much and tends to separate himself from the community. People think he's slow and weird. But he is deep and intriguing.
Almost instantly he forms a profound connection with the women he wins in a marriage lottery, Bailee. Their relationship is a joy to watch unfold. The elements of a grand western are also there in this book. The heroine is strong and capable, a true survivor. But she is open to love despite her strength. From practically the first moment they are together you feel like they are meant to be together forever. This is a pure and true love story.
9.The Mercenary by Cherry Adair
--This is a really good adventure novel. Sexy, suspenseful with a likeable heroine in over her head and a not-so-good hero. I love this book!!! It's one of those books that you want to turn around and reread just after you finish it the first time.
10.Ritual Sins by Anne Stuart
--Another truly excellent dark romance with a hero who is not quite heroic. This book is not for everyone but I love it. It's sexy and edgy with tortured characters who manage to find love despite the dark surroundings and the darkness in their hearts. Luke the hero is actually the worst sort of con-artist. He's pretending to be a religious leader. At first I hesitated to read it because of this. I am very religious myself and hated the idea of hero who is misleading people spiritually. But I skimmed it because I love the author and had to buy it. Reading this book you realize that Luke is due a recogning. He gets it from the daughter of one of the women that his false doctrine had swayed. She left all her money to them and her daughter is fighting angry about it. Rachel comes to kick ass and take names. She had a history of sexual abuse that has her deeply angry and locked tight within herself. Surprisingly, Luke is the man who helps her to open up and to overcome her painful past. This is another book about characters healing through dark and ugly circumstances.

As you can see my favorite books have flawed, hurting characters who find healing and redemption in the course of the story. Typically I don't find myself attracted to stories that are really light and fluffy. It's funny, that. I love to laugh. My favorite movies are funny ones. But in romances I like the angst. My favorite books are the ones that make you laugh one minute and cry the next. The books that make you earn the happy ending by ploughing along through the anguish, accompanied by the characters. I also love sexy books with descriptive love scenes that show the deep passion and connection between the characters. My choices reflect that. I love romance and these books are the reason why I will stand up loud and proud and declare that I am first and foremost a romance novel reader! Who needs literary fiction?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What makes a man a man?

This is a question asked by many women and men. Is a man manly if he throws his weight around, swares, scratches his nether regions, sleeps with as many women as possible? Or is he simply a man because he has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome and is physically mature? I've always had a bee in my bonnet about this. I don't like macho, sexist men. I like alpha heroes in books, but sometimes they can be too much to swallow when they are uber-alpha heroes. The caveman act only appeals so much. I can admit that some guys are really hot because they just seem so male to me. I don't think it's the same as being macho. In my mind, there is definitely a difference. Nothing wrong with a little possessiveness in a hero, but complete jealousy is kind of scary. Also bossing the heroine around, trying to control her and dominate her, and dismissing her because she is a woman is out for me. It makes me want to reach for the frying pan and knock some sense in her. I usually clash with men like that.

What traits define an adult male who is truly a man? And yes, there is a difference. Well I can't speak for anyone else, but I'll tell you what makes a man in my eyes.

  • A quiet confidence

  • A sense of honor

  • The willingness to do what must be done, and the conviction to do it

  • Protects those who are in need of protection

  • Respects a woman for her strengths and embraces her differences from him and how they complement him

  • The capacity to feel and express love

  • The ability to feel passion but the self-control to know when passion should be exercised

  • Being a person who can be depended on

  • Trust-worthiness

  • The ability to be faithful to his partner

  • Accepting of his responsibilities, even when they detract from his own desires

  • The ability to temper his strength so that he does not hurt someone less strong than him

  • The willingness to open himself to vulnerabilities and show his love for his family, partner, and close friends

  • The ability to show that he does need help sometimes, and that he is not perfect

  • Is willing and committed to doing something he doesn't want to do (such as a job he hates) in order for him to live up to his responsibilties

  • The willingness to listen to a woman and what is important to her

  • Respects and cares for the woman he sleeps with

  • Being careful when he sleeps with a woman (showing discretion with who he sleeps with), so that he doesn't bring a child into the world without a loving family or spread disease)

  • Taking care of his kids regardless of who their mother is, whether he's still with her or not, and how much he doesn't like their mother

  • Able to step back at times and let his woman take the limelight (and be proud of her without taking a hit to his own ego because she might be more successful than him in something)

  • Wants a woman to walk beside him, not behind or in front of him

  • Doesn't allow the woman he loves to control him or lead him around (I firmly believe that nobody deserves to be walked on, and no one has the right to walk on anyone else)

  • Spends time with his daughters just as much as his sons

  • Willing to show that he has faith in God without fearing that makes him look weak to others(be a spiritual role model to his children. How many of us had a father who stayed at home on the couch when we went to church with Mom?)

  • Not ashamed to show his artistic side or sensitive side, and even cry at times

  • Enjoys being around women for more than just sex or or how women appeal to them physically. Can view a woman as a friend, not just a potential sex partner, and doesn't dismiss women that are not attractive to him physically.

  • Can look beneath the surface to see a woman for her heart and inner beauty

  • Doesn't put pressure on his woman to maintain her attractiveness as she ages (gains weight, etc)

Why do I feel a real man has these qualities? Well, in my family, I have seen men that have shown the opposite qualities, and also how that has hurt the family unit, his wife, and kids. It has set a bad example in my eyes for men. I know now that I would choose a man that is pretty much opposite from most of the men in my family. As much as I loved my father, he let me down in most of these ways that I listed or feel comfortable discussing. My father didn't really seem to know what to do with my sister and me.My paternal grandfather was a stern man who rarely said a word to me other than yelling at me and calling me, "girl." My step-grandfather probably said less than 20 words to me in all the time of knowing him. This is not a woe is me moment, I just want to make it clear where I am coming from with this. All that really kind of gave me a very jaundiced view of men that I am trying to overcome as I age.

Do I hate men? Of course not? Do I understand men? I like to think I am coming to understand men (as much as I can, being a woman) more and more as I get older and spend more time around them.

On the contrary from disliking men, except for those days when I really don't get the men I'm around, I really feel that men are incredible and interesting. They fascinate me, as strange as it sounds. They are often full of contradictions, and are faced to put on facades because of the gender stratification that is prevalent in society. I really do in some ways feel sorry for those men who are more "sensitive," because they have even more pressure to fit the mold of what is expected of a man. I applaud those men who do step out of those preconceived notions and just try to be themselves, regardless of what others think.

What does not make a man a man in my eyes

  • How many woman he has slept with (or men for that matter) or have listed in his Black Book. Dare I saw that a real man doesn't even need to keep a Black Book?

  • How much money he makes

  • What kind of car he drives, house(s) he owns, how expensive his clothes are, etc

  • How many foul words can come out of his mouth

  • How much his crotch bulges (sorry to be crude)

  • How many men he can beat up or hurt, or kill

  • Hurting children or women

  • Having a large gun collection

  • Overblown displays of machismo (including the "I'm so macho display around other guys" when he's totally not like that when he's alone with this girlfriend/wife)

  • Absolute authority over his wife, children, and home

  • How many beers he can put away

  • Dismissive of "sensitive stuff, women's stuff, and pansy stuff"

  • Homophobia ( just because you're not gay doesn't men that you should hate gay men, be afraid of them, and be afraid of being labeled gay)

What I personally like about men

  • Their way of looking at a project as a goal that must be conquered at all costs. I think men are more likely to think this way than women. Most guys I know won't give up on a project unless they absolutely have to. (My sister does have this trait, so I know that it is not unique to men).

  • Not to be superficial, but the intricacies of a man's body appeals to me. Men's body are typically the opposite of women's bodies. I like that men have broader shoulders, typically narrow hips, and the parts that man a man a man (you know what I mean. I'll leave it at that. Very strange, but intriguing all the same). I like that men have deeper voices and tend to be taller than women. I like broad shoulders, a six-pack, and nice arms that you see on a man. I also like the features of a man's face. While woman's faces tend to be softer and rounder, men's faces are more angular, less round, and more sculpted. Having said that, I am so glad I am not a man. With all the issues that being a woman brings, I like being a woman and having a woman's body.

  • I think male rock musicians bring something to the table that is unique from female rock musicians, particularly bands. I'm not sure exactly what it is just yet. Good future post for my music blog. Therefore, I tend to like more male rock bands than female rock bands.

  • I like that men are more likely to get into a squabble with another man, get it over with, and move on. They don't tend to get catty about things and try to turn everyone else against that person like woman are more likely to do.

  • The ability to compartmentalize is a trait that is a double-edged sword with men. It's bad when a man can have sex with a woman that he doesn't love and make a distinction between that and loving a woman and having sex with her. It's a good think when a man is having some issues at home, but manages to put that aside and go to work and get the job done. I think women may not be as good at this. Maybe women are more diffuse in their emotions. I don't know. It's something I have observed, and I could be wrong about this difference between men and women.

  • I have had some pretty interesting discussions with men that I have not had the pleasure to have with most women. Maybe it's the women I've been around. Maybe I have interests that are more guy-oriented in that sense. I think that woman sometimes feel a need to restrict their interests to certain areas in the same way that men do (but about different subjects). I'm sorry, but discussions about shoes, purses, and makeup bore me to tears. And I hate when women sit around and discuss their birth control and stuff like that. Men don't do this. Yes, I know that men don't have to discuss birth control, but I doubt they talk about what condom they use, and their prostate exams. I could be wrong though. In my experience, men are more likely to sit around and discuss whether Wolverine can take the Predator on and win. Or who is the best person to play Green Arrow in a movie. Now that's a discussion I want to get in on. On the downside, I don't care for sports in general, so it bores me to tears when men start talking about sports. Same thing with hunting and the components of a car's engine.

  • They have been the ones who have had to go to wars (whether they wanted to or not) for thousands of years. Yes, I know that some women also go to wars now and in history. But at least, women didn't get drafted into wars. I must say that I do admire warriors in some ways. I think it takes great fortitude to fight in a war, and to see and do what must be done. I think that compartmentalization plays a role in this.

  • I think it must be hard for a man to watch his wife go through pregnancy and childbirth, and not really be able to take an active part in that process. I am amazed that they get through it okay. In some ways, that might be worse that the woman's part. Maybe that's what Kate Bush was getting at in the song "This Woman's Work."

As I have gotten older, I have met more and more guys who have some of the traits that I especially associate with men, but also have traits that some might label "womanly." Yes, even I first thought that every especially sensitive guy I met, must be gay. I guess it's because I come from a family in which most of the men tend to be on the "macho" spectrum. I know now that some guys are very heterosexual, but they are sensitive at the same time. There's nothing wrong with that.

That's why I love the fact that I am getting more wisdom as I age. I am seeing my perception of the world and its inhabitants change and grow as I live longer. Time and experience, has led me to believe that although men and women are very different, we are not that totally different at all. After all, we are both human.