Conversations & Guests

Romangst and the Bloody Sweat of Authors: Amber Belldene interviews Dear Author reviewer Kati Brown

letter_KHi everyone–Amber here.  When I first started writing romance, the level of critical discussion happening in the blogosphere was eye opening.  Romance was no longer the genre of hidden paperbacks, like I thought when I started reading it back in high school, but a smart and serious craft. When I found the website Dear Author, I was thrilled to see intelligent articles and reviews as well as thought provoking conversation in the comments.  Last year DA brought on board Kati Brown, who reviews paranormal and other genres. and I thought it would be fun and informative to invite her over to Paranormal Unbound today to talk with us about the genre.

Kati, thanks so much for coming by! What do you love about the paranormal genre?

I’m a huge fan of paranormal. I’m a known sucker for Romangst, and paranormal offers so many possibilities when it comes to darker/angsty romance. I love the new worlds created and particularly when a complex mythology is established for the world. I’m also a huge fan of a well done soulmates plot, and paranormal is where you find those.

Soulmates, huh? I think it’s interesting when people are very into a particular trope.  I hear there is going to be a “Fated to be Mated” panel at Romantic Times next month.  

Recently I saw you mention on Twitter that you feel vampire books are becoming redundant.  What makes a book exciting and fresh to you?


Oh vampire books. I loves you so. I started reading Christine Feehan when there were four “Dark” books published. Now there are something like 30. She was among the first authors who I obsessively followed, desperate for the next book to come out. Same with the first few Black Dagger Brotherhood books by JR Ward. Those series worked for me for two very different reasons. In Feehan’s case, these were the first vampire books I read. The soulmates hook, the idea that the hero’s life was literally colorless until the heroine came into it was delicious for me. In the case of Ward, her voice was unique. And she had such a particular vision and tone for her books. I remember reading Dark Lover on an airplane, and not wanting to put the book away to deplane. I couldn’t get back to it fast enough. The interesting part is neither work for me anymore. I think in part because my tastes as a reader have evolved.

Anymore, there are so many vampire books out there; the hook has to be incredibly eye-catching for me to even want to try it. Or, it needs to be written by an author who I’ve read and have confidence in. It feels very much to me like a genre that has played itself out for the moment. I could be very wrong. But, for me as a reader and reviewer, the word “vampire” is usually enough for me to stop reading the blurb. I feel like I’ve reached saturation point with that subgenre.

Thanks for being so straightforward about that.  We’ve all heard readers and folks in the industry say the same thing.  If the trend is away from vampires, do you have a sense of the direction the paranormal genre is going?   

It feels like lately, the paranormal genre has lots of dragons, angels and demons. I could be wrong, but Nalini Singh is the one who whetted my appetite for angels with her Guild Hunters series. I love her angels because, frankly, they are kinda scary. They think of humans a lot like ants. And I found Elena and Raphael’s story to be compelling because he fell for an ant.

Slave to Sensation - UKI’m a huge fan of shifter stories, but I find in longer series, it’s a real challenge for authors to keep their series fresh. The one exception being Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series. I think this is because Nalini has had an endgame in mind since the beginning, and the story builds upon itself, never losing momentum, even as each couple has a successful and satisfying HEA.

I think Thea Harrison also has a very fresh voice. Her Elder Races series is very well written. I remember reading Dragon Bound the first time and being blown out of the water by it.

I love the paranormal genre because authors are constantly coming up with new and exciting worlds that I’d never considered. And I’m always waiting for that new voice that shocks and excites me.

I  completely agree with you about series–unless they have an overarching plot (without annoying cliffhangers), I lose interest after three or four books. And of course, to an author of paranormal, your enthusiasm is wonderful to hear!

Your reviews are very well written.  Do you enjoy other kinds of writing, or is blogging and reviewing your primary outlet?  Have you ever written fiction?

Thank you so much for the wonderful compliment! I review, that’s it. My father was a professional journalist though, and a demanding reader when I was a student writing papers, so perhaps some of the writing stuff comes from him. I write almost precisely as I speak, my voice is consistent, so it’s really nice of you to say that they are well written.

Given that I review romance, I’ve had many people say to me, “You should write one.” Here’s the thing though: as a general rule, I find that most writers have been writing stories since they were kids. I’m not that girl. I started reading at age 3, and have been an avid reader my whole life. But I’m not a writer, per se. I don’t have stories and characters in my head. Plus, I always jump all over someone who says, “You should write a romance.” Oh sure, because it’s so easy. I know too many authors who sweat blood and tears over their books to think that I could just do it. No way. I have tremendous respect for authors, aspiring, or published. They work their butts off!

All of the writers who read this will really appreciate that response, I think 🙂 And, it does seem like writers often aspire to it from a young age.  When I started writing seriously, it changed how I read, and frankly, it’s less fun now because it is hard to stop analyzing and comparing my own style to the author.  It reminds me of when my high school Latin teacher warned me off speed reading, because she found she could no longer linger over a good book.  

Tell us about writing reviews–what do you like about it, and what is challenging?  

For me, the challenge in writing reviews is encapsulating a novel into two or three paragraphs. It’s tough to capture the essence of a book with those limitations. I think the hardest reviews to write are the ones where you don’t really feel anything about the book. Or the ones where you finish the book and two days later can’t tell anyone a thing about it. Books that linger, or books that knock me out are the easiest to write about – positively, or negatively. It’s the mediocre ones that are tough to write about.

I see writing reviews as a unique skill, and it’s interesting to hear you say it’s the ho-hum books that are the hardest.  As an author, I rarely write reviews because I am so keenly aware of how subjective and quirky my preferences are and I respect people that can articulate theirs in a way that has broad appeal–all of the reviewers at Dear Author do this very well.  Speaking of which, Dear Author reviews are written as letters to the author.  Does that change how you think about writing the review?

No. Because even though we’re addressing the author, the review is really for the readers. It’s to offer readers insight into why a book worked or didn’t for you. I often review authors who I’m friendly with, and I have a working relationship with a number of authors who I beta read for. But when I’m writing the review, even though I’m addressing the author, I’m really trying to start a dialogue with potential readers, or readers who have read the book. I love when I write a review and readers disagree with me. It pushes me to think differently about a book, or to think more about why a book worked so well for me, despite others disliking it.

Since you are such an avid reader of romance, I’m dying to ask: What is your favorite book of all time?images

My favorite book of all time is a tough question. My favorite romance of all time is The Windflower by Tom and Sharon Curtis. The prose, the pirates, the old skooliness of it. It’s just reading perfection for me.

My favorite book of all time is probably A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. Even now, as an adult, when I re-read it, I find some passage that speaks deeply to me. She was among the brightest and most gifted writers I’ve ever read.

What are you reading now?

Mostly these days I’m reading contemporary romance. This is mainly because the authors who I love best are publishing contemporary. The book currently open on my eReader is Unforgiven by Anne Calhoun. It’s a contemporary military romance.

I’m not surprised to hear you say that.  Military romance is so hot right now, and it has just as much potential for Romangst as paranormal, IMHO.  Do you have any auto-buy authors? What is it about them that you love?

I have a number of authors who I autobuy. As you can guess, Nalini Singh is my favorite author. I love Nalini because I think she’s a risk taker. She writes a tremendously successful shifter series (Psy/Changeling), but then started the Guild Hunters, which is dark and sometimes really sad and very violent. I thought it was a risk, but one that turned out for her. I also really like that she has a complete endgame in mind for her series. It makes the cohesiveness of her stories really impressive. She also writes incredibly hot couples who have amazing chemistry. Hers is a rare talent, in that she made the shift from mass market to hard cover without skipping a beat and that Heart of Obsidian, her 12th Psy/Changeling series is easily one of the most anticipated romance novels being published this year.

Kati, thank you so much for coming buy to visit.  Readers, Kati has offered to stop by the blog today and answer questions, so feel free to leave her comments.  And if you haven’t been following her on Twitter (@KatiD) or over at Dear Author I highly recommend doing so.  

And, as always, the folks here at Paranormal Unbound appreciate you spreading the word about our posts.  Here are some tweets you can share: 

Known sucker for Romangst Dear Author reviewer @KatiD visits @ParaUnbound to talk paranormal! <—Click to Tweet

It’s mediocre reviews that are tough to write: Dear Author reviewer @KatiD visits @ParaUnbound <—Click to Tweet

10 thoughts on “Romangst and the Bloody Sweat of Authors: Amber Belldene interviews Dear Author reviewer Kati Brown

  1. Great interview! This just added some more titles to my TBR, though Windflower’s been sitting in it for a while, due I think to SBTB, so that’s now getting bumped up.

    Do you take applications for being a Beta reader? 🙂 Mine are probably not up your alley though, as they’re more lighthearted paranormals (time travel)

  2. Hi Angela! Thanks so much for commenting. Yeah, I love angsty romances – the angstier the better. 🙂

    If you decide to read The Windflower, I hope you like it. The heroine is deeply MarySue, and the hero is super bossy, but the prose is just sumptuous and gorgeous. Very flowery, but so beautiful. Plus, it has two of the best secondary characters is romance: Captain Rand Morgan (quintessential Very Bad Man) and Cat, who SO needed his HEA, but never got it.

  3. Hi Angela – You may be right, I do like deeply angsty romances.:)

    If you decide to read The Windflower, I hope you love it. It’s got really gorgeous prose and is surprisingly funny at times. Fair warning: the heroine is a total MarySue and the hero is a bit of an asshat. But OMG, the prose…so beautiful. Also, The Windflower has two of the best secondary characters ever: Capt. Rand Morgan (a pirate) who is the quintessential Very Bad Man and Cat, who so desperately needed his HEA. I hope you read it and enjoy it!

  4. Wow, ladies!!! Fantastic interview! Kati, thank you for your straight forward answers on reviewing. I am a reviewer (around a year) and a BETA reader as well. Voracious is a good word to describe me, and I run the gammut of mostly all kinds of PNR and some Contemporary to the Epic Fantasy’s the likes of Wheel of Time, LOTR, and such. Like you, I find it so very difficult to write a review on a book that really left me…well, blah. Especially when I went into the book expecting to really like it and then by the end it left me wanting. Like you said, when you have a book that you feel strongly about, either love or hate..that’s easy. I’ve often wondered if it is best to follow that old adage….”if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” but then think..well, what if someone else is thinking about purchasing this book, and they end up feeling like I did? After all, that is what a review is for. It’s also hard when you BETA read and really think something just doesn’t sound right, and you know you need to say something, but this is the writers baby, and who are you to criticize… Good thing for me that when I agreed to be a BETA, I let them know upfront that if they really want my thoughts, then my thoughts-good, bad, and ugly-is what they will get. I love it! And the authors I do this for are wonderful! Oh, and I agree with you on Madeline L’Engle, Nalini Singh and Thea Harrison!!!

  5. I’m a lurker on DA and really enjoy the interviews. AJH’s recent review of The Flame and the Flower made me howl! I loved that book back in the day, but now, I fear, it is sadly dated. I agree that PN offers endless possibilities, which I adore.

  6. Just stalked you from Twitter to say how much I enjoyed reading this interview with you – obviously I read your reviews over at DA, but it’s nice to see the person behind them, too 🙂 So, thank you for your hosts for that, as well 🙂

    Ohh, y’know what, The Windflower is next on my list after The Smoke Thief and I’m pretty sure it was your rec. I ended up rushing it way up list because you said the P word. I am very excited by pirates.

    Obviously I don’t really write reviews so much as babble cluelessly but you’re so right about how difficult it can be to find something meaningful to say if a book doesn’t grab you, whatever its quality. Hating something passionately is great. Loving something deeply makes it easy. But ‘blah’ does not make for interesting commentary 🙂

    Also this:

    “And I found Elena and Raphael’s story to be compelling because he fell for an ant.”

    I KNOW! It’s such an insane power dynamic but it works so well! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

  7. Great interview, ladies! It was interesting to get a window into the review process, and Kati, I share your respect for Nalini Singh. She definitely pushes the envelope, and she’s a terrific writer.

  8. Thanks for the nice interview ladies. I agree with you on that remark: Why don’t you write one yourself. Eh no, I am a reader, not a writer. And I find that the more I love a book, the harder it is to write a review. I also started with Christine Feehan as one of my first paranormal series, and I still love most of her books, but the repetition in the Carpathians is really making me tired. And I am a huge fan of Nalini Singh, meeting her last year was awesome.
    But unlike you, I am still looking forward to new vampire books, as long as they don’t sparkle.

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