_Too Good to be True_, published by Samhain, won a 2008 Eppie (tie) for Erotic Romance Contemp/Suspense/Mystery. What does any of that mean?
Samhain is primarily an epublisher, but does some print books as well. An Eppie is an award for epublished books. Erotic romance means there will not only be a developing relationship with an emotionally satisfying ending, there will be explicit sex and not just a little of it, and probably not just tab p slot v, either. (I'm itching to say, look, it's a rom-sus with buttsex, but then I'd have to explain that rom-sus is shorthand for romantic suspense, altho I guess I will just hope my readers know what buttsex is.)
You can find other Eppie winners and nominees at:http://www.epicauthors.com/epicawards.html
I used that in conjunction with Amazon customer reviews to pick out some sample epublished-only books after I realized that virtually everything I was reading on the kindle was big 6 + HQN and I wanted to know if there were other options out there that would be equally satisfactory.
If this is any indication, what the big 6/HQN editorial teams bring to the game comes largely under the heading of production values. While there are people out there wailing about formatting problems, I didn't notice anything particularly obnoxious about this title, either compared to other ebooks with print equivalents or other printed books. I had some issues with the dialogue in spots ("in your cups" is not slang that a thirty-something ex-DEA now-private investigator is likely to use; it is slang that a regency romance is likely to use). The internal dialogue of the contract hitter (his mother died of consumption? Then again, see this: http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=38
) and his speech in general was not particularly believable; he was supposed to be ex-IRA but I'm hardly an expert. I also thought there was a bit too much "tell" and not quite enough "show" in the development of sexual tension between the Sheriff and the DEA agent in the beginning of the novel. There was a very weak couple sentences in the description of the country club, and the timeline at the end of the novel between when the DEA agent quits the DEA, starts the new job for TBI and buys the house on North Main that honestly? Just doesn't make any sense at all to me. *shrug* Perhaps I misunderstood something.
While that is a _lot_ of detailed complaining for me when reviewing a genre novel, I am not mentioning all these things because they are unusual in nature or there was an unusually large number of them. If anything, there were fewer OMG that was a stupid for the author to write how did the editor let that one get past than there generally are when I'm reading trashy novels for fun. That's the bad: not bad at all.
The good was so unreasonably good it took me a while to even realize that I probably wasn't properly speaking reading trash at all, and it forced me to think through precisely what I expect from my trashy novels. Small town in the South has always had marijuana troubles, check. Sheriff known for letting it slide. Sure. Low on the DEA's list of things to investigate. Plausible. Meth labs more of an issue. Ripped straight from what no longer merits a headline. Party drugs show up. Believable. DEA guy sent in undercover to figure out who is supplying the party drugs and shut it down, once a body count develops as kids OD and the sheriff is executed. Within the realm of not just possibility, but probability. The details of the cover story weren't necessarily fleshed out for the reader (yay! no infodumpage!), but apparently handled competently (a copy of one of the agent's "books" was available with him on the bookjacket -- he handed one to the sheriff when she asked for one to read; he had a website and his books were listed on Amazon). There was an explanation for why he was living pretty well that didn't rely on bestseller status. The new sheriff is the daughter of the old sheriff (plausible). Her mother has recently shown up in town after being missing since Rilla was three, so a complex storyline developed there. Deus ex machina needs supplied by "cop instinct", a stray dog adopted by Rilla (yeah, that dog was a little too good to be true, but okay), and an elderly lady in town with a serious gossip habit (believable!).
There are plenty of romance books out there which invoke bad childhoods to explain adult commitment phobia and then use a strong sexual attraction and thrown-together-by-circumstances to unite a couple very cool people who it is, honestly, not particularly plausible that they aren't already hooked up with someone else otherwise. It's just fine with me for Ryan to use the same tools. I was overjoyed that she developed that background between Mac and his fellow DEA (or ex-DEA) agent/friends and between Rilla and her mother -- rather than making it a bunch of infodumpage between the principals.
It is a genre novel. The "production values" it lacks can be thought of as the overproduction that it lacks. Mac's just a DEA agent. He's in a little trouble from a previous screwup, and because it's becoming clear he's not really cut out for undercover work -- his chameleonic skills rely on him needing other people to like and to love him, not on his desire to run a scam or whatever, and he has a lot of trouble detaching. Ryan doesn't tell you that. She shows you that in a dozen different small ways, including other characters trying to tell Ryan he needs to get into a different line of work, and him misunderstanding what they are saying as an attack on his abilities, rather than good advice from someone who cares. Because that's exactly how Mac _would_ interpret that kind of advice -- he fits in because he wants people to love him. If he's not fitting in, he feels like people won't love him. It even makes sense that once his boss tells him no more undercover, he cuts himself loose and immediately finds another place to fit right in: back in the Springs with the hot Sheriff.
Mac isn't Superman. There aren't hordes of fawning women validating Rilla's attraction to him, and there aren't pages of description of how he is the embodiment of hotness. He does work as her backup, but he's not her savior -- she self-rescues as often as not anyway. Rilla is assertive and aggressive in every aspect of her life: quick to anger, and quite tough on herself, but prepared to forgive other people when they react negatively to her doing her job as law enforcement. I could complain about the thin-and-losing-weight -- but she's been under a lot of stress and is depicted as working out and physically active. I could complain about that one scene where he carries her around, yeah, you know, I think I will complain about that.
A lot of the trashy novels I read suffer from some Mary Sue-ism. This novel really did not. My favorite writers take some very Mary Sue premises and develop some rollicking good rides around them. Ryan took some very believable people, good at what they do but not Unique, the Only or The Very Best Ever, and told a good story around them -- a story that took a little while to get rolling, but moved along at a good pace with good momentum once it did get rolling.
So: genre, lots of sex (including oral and anal, but still just the two people and completely hetero, and no toybox -- also, totally inadequate use of protection), but not trashy. Worth a read. I'm looking forward to more Eppie winners.