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August 19, 2008

Book Clubs and Romance

Posted by carol
Ellen Higuchi knows all about romance. She's a Romance Expert for Borders, and five years ago she launched a Romance Book Group at the company's Los Gatos, California, store. Here she talks about how the group came to be and how it has a different take than a traditional book club. She also shares some recommended reads.

When I was asked by my store manager to start a romance book group, I was a little leery but kind of excited. I wasn't comfortable with public speaking or leading discussions. But...I've been a romance reader since my mid-teens, and I didn't know anyone else who was as obsessed with the genre as I was with whom I could discuss books and authors and plots. If there were others like me who'd be interested in meeting regularly to talk about a hobby that took up a lot of my spare time, I was willing to give it a go.

As a Romance Expert for Waldenbooks (and now for Borders), I received many Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) of upcoming romance books. Hmm, what a great lure to attract people to the new book group! We started in early 2003, with only four or five regulars, with the intention of discussing a particular topic each month and reporting back on ARCs I had given out the previous month. After a few months, our meetings had evolved into mini-review sessions of new and future releases.

Now we have an average of fifteen regular attendees who review between twenty and thirty books every month. Some of our members read a book or two a month; others read 15+. We read everything: historical, contemporary, paranormal, romantic suspense, time travel, erotic romance, and category romance, as well as books outside of the romance genre that have strong romantic elements. However, most of us have very definite likes and dislikes when it comes to reading romance. Some prefer romantic suspense but will read anything. Some will read anything but a paranormal; others love them. Because of this diversity in our preferred subgenres of romance, we realized early on that the traditional book group format of everyone reading the same book every month wouldn't work for us. There would always be some members who had absolutely no interest in reading whatever title we chose. We discovered that reviewing many books rather than having everyone read the same book was a great way to find new authors as well as good reads outside of our own favorite subgenres within romance.

What do I do with all the feedback? Because I'm a Borders Romance Expert, I send the reviews to the Borders romance buyer, Sue Grimshaw, at our corporate headquarters every month. She also loves the genre and is a voracious romance reader, but with the number of romance books released it's impossible to read everything. She can use our input on books and trends to keep up with the opinions of actual readers. And our opinions are brutally honest, ranging from, "I loved it! I reread it right away" to "It was awful --- I threw it across the room after three chapters." Through all the feedback, we've also gotten to know each other well enough to be able to recommend specific books or to give specific ARCs to members who we know will enjoy them.

At about half of our meetings we have guest authors, who in the past have included Jasmine Haynes/Jennifer Skully, Shelley Adina/Shelley Bates/Shannon Hollis, Veronica Wolff, Jami Alden, Bella Andre, Monica McCarty and Candice Hern, as well as many others. They have all graciously spent time with us and, of course, autographed copies of their wonderful books for us, too.

Each monthly meeting is a wonderful opportunity to share opinions and laughs, and to talk about romance books with an amazing group of women who share a love of the genre. If you're in or around Los Gatos, California, on the last Thursday of the month, please stop by and join in on the fun!

Recent recommended reads:
Border Lass, Amanda Scott (September, 2008)
Cry Wolf, Patricia Briggs
Cutting Loose, Susan Andersen
Dark Light, Jayne Castle (September, 2008)
Death Angel, Linda Howard
Flashpoint, Jill Shalvis
Hidden, Eve Kenin
The Ideal Wife, Mary Balogh
The Last Stand trilogy (Trust Me/Stop Me/Watch Me), Brenda Novak
The Mane Attraction, Shelly Laurenston (November, 2008)
Mercury's War, Lora Leigh (September, 2008)
Power Play, Deirdre Martin (October, 2008)
Promises Reveal, Sarah McCarty (October, 2008)
Some Like It Wicked, Teresa Medeiros
Sweet Spot, Susan Mallery
Tribute, Nora Roberts
Undead and Unworthy, MaryJanice Davidson

---Ellen Higuchi