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GENRE FICTION--the Wild Card for the 2019 AAC

75 Books Challenge for 2019

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Edited: Feb 11, 6:23pm Top

As we have a “wild card” category for the AAC this year, it seemed like an idea to have a separate thread where anyone who is taking that option can pop in and tell us what they’re reading. I’m going to make some recommendations, but “wild card” translates to “read what you want”, so if you choose to do that in place of one of the monthly authors, you should also feel free to ignore what follows in this post! In the interest of full disclosure, it was lycomayflower who proposed this thread, and since she was in the mood to be so helpful, I invited her to contribute to it by making some recommendations regarding a genre that she reads, and I don’t---one which gets very little attention from any of the usual participants here, and which we might be slighting for lack of good guidance. So tune in to >2 below, for her take on Romance novels.

Two of my favorite genres – mystery and detective fiction--often cross over into each other’s territory. The two authors I will be recommending, Sharyn McCrumb and James Lee Burke, both present us with mysteries, some of which go beyond “who dunnit” or even “how was it done?”. No locked rooms feature in any of their work, to the best of my recollection, and it was never the butler. The police procedural is a particular type of detective fiction, but although we have police, sheriffs and their deputies center stage in most of their work, McCrumb and Burke don’t write “procedurals”. They are both consummate story-tellers, with their hearts and their characters firmly rooted in a geographical region with a personality of its own. With McCrumb it is Appalachia, while Burke splits his attention between Louisiana and Montana. Both excel at bringing their bits of America to life.


I know when I pick up one of Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachian "Ballad" novels, set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains, that I will be totally absorbed in minutes, and always sorry to come to the end. These novels often contain parallel narratives, one historical (and often based on an actual incident or legend that led to the ballad it is named for) and one contemporary. There is a recurring set of modern characters, including Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his small force, and the enigmatic wise woman, Nora Bonesteel, who is blessed or cursed with “the sight”, a sporadic ability to know things about people and sometimes to see the essence, if not the specifics, of the future.
"My books are like Appalachian quilts," says Sharyn McCrumb. "I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South."
McCrumb’s research is meticulous, but she never lets it overcome the story line. Many of her ancestors have made it into her novels, (Arrowood is a family name), including her great, great, great grandfather, who was kidnapped at the age of 10 from an island in the Hebrides in 1760 and taken to sea as a cabin boy on a sailing ship. He later became an attorney in Morristown, New Jersey, served as a quartermaster during the American Revolution, and finally settled in western North Carolina within a few miles of the Tennessee line. The Songcatcher tells his story, and it is a good one. (N.B. There is an excellent movie of the same name, but it is NOT based on the McCrumb novel.) While the historical tales each stand alone, the recurring characters’ lives move along in chronological fashion (and sometimes connect with the older tales), so it is probably best to read the ballad novels in order. I read two of them (No. 9 and No. 4) without realizing they were part of a series, and I loved them both. But now that I’m working through the series in order, I have and will re-read them where they fall in the sequence...much better that way.
Aside from her ballad novels, McCrumb has authored a lighter, funnier, but apparently less well-regarded series featuring Elizabeth MacPherson, a forensic anthropologist and amateur detective whose adventures currently comprise nine novels, from Sick of Shadows to The PMS Outlaws. She has also written two mystery novels set at sci-fi conventions, featuring Jay Omega, a professor/science fiction author as her amateur sleuth.
McCrumb’s website .


Burke is a native of the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast. His non-writing resume includes teaching in four universities, one community college, and the Job Corps. He was also a case worker in California with former felons, the indigent, migrant farm workers, and the criminally insane. He was a pipeliner in Texas, a landman for Sinclair Oil Company in Louisiana, a surveyor in Colorado, a long-distance truck driver, and a newspaper reporter. He is a devout Catholic who often engages in public discussions about morality and philosophy, and who believes that the predominant theme of all Western literature is the search for salvation or redemption. His detective, Dave Robicheaux is a troubled hero with a lot of baggage. Yet he is also a man with a fully functioning moral compass that he tries very hard to follow. He is determined that if he cannot change the world, at least the world will not change him. He has been portrayed in movies by Alec Baldwin (Heaven’s Prisoners and Tommy Lee Jones (In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead). Burke writes his own special brand of hard-boiled detective fiction- poetic, even lyrical, yet sometimes brutal. His assessment of humanity is scathing and hopeful at the same time. And Louisiana is a character in every book. I discovered him in the 1970’s, while living outside of New Orleans myself, where Robicheaux was once on the force, and where he occasionally has cause to visit, although his current job is as a deputy sheriff in Iberia Parish, considerably west of the city. Burke’s early Robicheaux novels remain among my favorite genre reads, although those he wrote after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana coastal lowlands and salt marshes as well as the Big Easy, became too hard for me to love, and I decided to go no further with the series. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t made his acquaintance to begin at the beginning and take it as far as you can. Burke has created a second series featuring generations of the Holland family beginning with Texas Ranger, Hackberry Holland. These are more “western” in character, taking place in Mexico, Texas and Montana, but their themes are very similar to those found in the Robicheaux books, including race relations, alcoholism, corporate greed, the concept of evil, and the fate of the Earth in the hands of humans. According to Burke’s website, “Each of the books in the Holland family saga are written as stand-alone novels. Each novel features a descendant of the original Hackberry Holland.” Occasionally, Robicheaux ends up in Montana too.
Burke is now 82 years old, and still writing. His 22nd Robicheaux novel was published in January 2019. His daughter Alafair (who appears very much like herself down to the name in many of the Robicheaux novels) is also a bestselling suspense author, whose work I intend to explore one of these days. Find her here

Alafair Burke

and this is her father’s website.

Edited: Feb 11, 9:23pm Top


For your perusing of American genre fiction, may I suggest a romance novel? If you’ve never read one before (or if it’s been a long time), you may be surprised at what you find. The genre has moved beyond (and has always been more than) the stereotype of the historical bodice-ripper and the Harlequin category romance. Unless the idea of a story about people finding love is anathema to you, there is a romance novel out there that will spark your interest. Whatever fiction genre is your go-to (SFF? Mystery? Thriller? Litfic?), a subgenre of romance will scratch your itch. So here is a quick (absolutely not comprehensive) little primer about the romance genre followed by some suggestions for where to start.

The romance genre as it exists today started in the second half of the 20th century (for endless debates about whether earlier relationship-centered fiction such as the works of Jane Austen are or are not “romance novels” in the same sense that a mass market paperback published by Avon and available in your supermarket book nook in 2019 is, please to exit left and Google to your blessed heart’s content. Pack snacks. That rabbit hole is deep.), and, if you have a stereotype in mind of what a romance novel looks like (Fabio?) and what happens in it (a sexually repressed heroine and an alpha male in some historical period that may or may not be sort of accurate snarl at one another until he probably rapes her until she decides she likes it?), it likely stems from the novels of the seventies and eighties. The history of the genre, it is problematic. Today the romance genre is far from free of problematic single titles, problematic tropes, and problematic representation, but it is also a treasure trove of exploration of various sexualities, identities, and subgenres, often with a pleasing dose of female empowerment and sexual awareness. If you want badass lady-types, we’ve got ‘em. Romance is also big business: estimates place annual romance sales above one billion dollars and at around one fifth of all sales of fiction aimed at adults. Far from being dismissed as throw-away, artistically lacking fluff, the romance genre should be celebrated as a female-centered space where women’s interests, concerns, and pleasure often come to the fore.

Some Vocab:

Romance: In order to be a romance, the story/novella/or novel in question must have a love story at the heart of a primary storyline, and it must have a happy ending where the hero(es) and heroine(s) are together.

HEA: “Happily Ever After.” A reference to the kind of ending a romance is expected to have. “I was fascinated to see how these two were going to get to their HEA.”

HFN: “Happy For Now.” A variation on an HEA. A way to subvert the idea that the only way to end “happily” is for the characters to engage in heteronormative practices such as marriage and/or life-long monogamy.

M/M: Shorthand for male/male romance, and thus featuring a gay relationship. You might also sometimes see “f/f” for female/female or “m/f,” for male/female, but m/m is the only one of these abbreviations that has really taken off as a subgenre descriptor. (They all came over from fan fiction.)

Erotic Romance: A romance with a lot of very explicit sex on the page.

Heat Level: Reference to how much sex is in a romance and how explicit it is. Generally speaking, words that suggest “hot” (steamy, spicy, etc) indicate more sex and more explicitness.

Sweet: A very low heat level. Little to no sex on the page. Sometimes little to no sex happening, even off the page.

Series: Romance series often follow a group of connected people (siblings for instance, or friends), with each member getting their own book. Often there is no need to read romance series in order (unless the whole series follows the same single character).

A Small Selection of Some Romance Authors in Various Categories (Asterisks indicate authors who aren’t American *looks over shoulder for LW3*. I have bolded one author from each category that’s a good bet to try. A handful of specific recs follow at the end.):

Historical Romance: Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Eloisa James, Beverly Jenkins, Sarah MacLean, Cat Sebastian, Alyssa Cole, Scarlett Peckham, Julia Quinn, Joanna Shupe, Laura Kinsale, Julia Garwood, Rose Lerner, KJ Charles*, Stephanie Laurens*, Georgette Heyer*, Mary Balogh*

Contemporary Romance: Courtney Milan, Heidi Cullinan, Damon Suede, Alyssa Cole, Annabeth Albert, Kristen Ashley, Sonali Dev, Joey W. Hill, Jill Shalvis, Christina Lauren, Debbie MacComber, J.R. Ward, Tiffany Reisz, Nora Roberts, Lucy Lennox, Alexis Hall*

Sweet Romance: Debbie Macomber, Beverly Lewis, Emily March, Patience Griffin

High Heat Romance: Tiffany Reisz, Joey W. Hill, Scarlet Peckham, Heidi Cullinan, Kristen Ashley, Megan Hart, Sylvia Day, Roni Loren, Kit Rocha, C.S. Pacat*, Alexis Hall*

BDSM Romance: Tiffany Reisz, Joey W. Hill, Scarlet Peckham, Heidi Cullinan, Kristen Ashley, Sylvia Day, Roni Loren, Alexis Hall*

Romance Authors of Color: Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins, Sonali Dev, Helen Hoang, Alisha Rai, Zane, Nalini Singh*

LGBTQ Authors of Romance: Damon Suede, Christina Lauren, Heather Rose Jones, Radclyffe, Meghan O’Brien, Alexis Hall*

M/M Romance: Damon Suede, Cat Sebastian, Heidi Cullinan, Lucy Lennox, Annabeth Albert, Roan Parrish, Josh Lanyon, Alexis Hall* C.S. Pacat*

F/F Romance: Radclyffe, Heather Rose Jones, Meghan O’Brien

Western Romance (Historical and/or Contemporary): Beverly Jenkins, Kristen Ashley, Lorelei James, Catherine Anderson, BJ Daniels, Lynnette Austin, Nicole Helm

SFF and/or Paranormal Romance: Shelly Laurensten/G.A. Aiken, JD Robb (Nora Roberts), Christine Feehan, JR Ward, Kresley Cole, C.L. Wilson, Terry Spear, Kit Rocha, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Amanda Bouchet, Nalini Singh*, Bec McMaster*

Romantic Suspense: Kat Martin, Rebecca Zanetti, JD Robb (Nora Roberts), Annabeth Albert (military), Josh Lanyon (mystery)

Sports Romance: Jaci Burton, Sarina Bowen, Helena Hunting*

YA Romance: Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Sarah Dessen, Becky Albertalli, Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins

Older Titles/Older Styles: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (seventies “classic” bodice rippers), Beatrice Small (historical and fantasy bodice rippers), Dara Joy (nineties cracktastic historical, SFF, and contemporary), Georgette Heyer* (Regency Austen read-a-likes from the thirties);

I specifically recommend:

Winter Wonderland, Heidi Cullinan: Christmas-set contemporary m/m with BDSM overtones that I love for its depiction of male friendships and its inversion of sexual stereotypes.

The Duke I Tempted, Scarlett Peckham: Historical m/f with BDSM overtones that I love for its exploration of class and its inversion of gender stereotypes.

Any Duchess Will Do, Tessa Dare: Rompy historical m/f that explores class that I love for its sense of fun.

The Understatement of the Year, Sarina Bowen: Contemporary m/m sports novel that I love for its exploration of male sports culture and sexuality and for its secondary characters.

Trade Me, Courtney Milan: Contemporary m/f featuring an interracial couple that I love for its exploration of class and privilege and its inversion of gender stereotypes.

Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan: Often tongue-in-cheek nonfiction exploration of the romance genre. Sarah Wendell is the founder of the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Dangerous Books for Girls, Maya Rodale: More serious, leaning academic nonfiction exploration of the romance genre.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books: Website devoted to all things romance genre, including reviews, news, and an easy way to search romance novels by subgenre and/or trope.

The Ripped Bodice: The only dedicated romance book shop in the US.

Bonus: If the romance bug bites you, I can’t recommend enough Alexis Hall (who is British and thus not going to help you with the AAC, per se). Try Waiting for the Flood, Glitterland, or For Real. Hall’s contemporary m/m usually weaves mental health concerns into the stories to great effect.

Feb 12, 12:25pm Top

>1 laytonwoman3rd: After some of your warbling last year Linda, I downloaded the first 'Ballad novel' to my Kindle, so I may read that as a wild card on one of the months.

>2 laytonwoman3rd: Will peruse Lycomflower's recommendations later. I'm not big on romance novels that are exclusively such, but as part of a broader novel...

Feb 12, 2:21pm Top

Just in time to save my tuches is this Wild Card option. I bailed on Louisa May Alcott; she is soooo sweet my blood sugar reached a new for me peak.

Right now I am drawing close to the denouement of Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. It's strange, but I'm entertained. I have two other Palahniuk novels in The TBR ClosetTM: Choke and Survivor. Might read one of those to cement this invocation of The Wild Card.

By the way, can I use The Wild Card twice in year?

Feb 12, 2:28pm Top

>4 weird_O: You can use the wild card as often as you like, Bill. And thanks for mentioning Palahniuk. I haven't tried him yet, so I'll be interested in your final assessment.

>3 Caroline_McElwee: I've never thought of romance novels as my kind of read, either, Caroline. But Laura's made some tempting rec's there, and she persuaded me to read Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan a couple years back...it was excellent.

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