I’ve gradually become aware of the vibrant and passionate book blogging community out here in the wilds of the internet, and have begun following a number of different sites whose reviews I read frequently. Respiring Thoughts by Renae is definitely one of my new favorites, in large part because she writes lucid, cogent reviews that are incisive, fair, and whose rationale I tend to agree with. Not only that, but I’m frequently amazed at the speed Renae reads at–I think she devours about four or five novels a week. 
So I emailed Renae and asked if she would be up for a quick interview, and she graciously agreed. Of course, being an author meant I had some very particular questions to ask, in large part because the topics I touched on are ones that I’m wrestling with myself. So enjoy the interview, definitely check out her blog, and feel free to leave your own thoughts and answers below!

1. It used to be that we were admonished not to judge a book by its cover, yet these days most novels sport gorgeous artwork and design. With so much eye candy to choose from, can you nominate your three recent favorites, and explain what in your opinion makes for an excellent cover so that it stands out from the pack?
I should probably preface this by saying that I don’t pay much attention to covers. Yes, I notice them and like/dislike them, and I might pick up a book based on its cover, but I don’t just decide to read a book  based on cover alone, and I don’t discount a book because of its cover either.
However, going through a list of recent reads and upcoming releases, here are a few covers that I like:
What these covers have in common is that they’re not typical for the YA genre (Stormdancer isn’t technically YA), and by that I mean: there’s no girl in a pretty and sparkly dress and there’s no close up of a twenty-something’s face. These covers, for me, are far more eye catching and unique that what you tend to see in the YA section of your favorite bookstore.

[Phil: I have indeed noticed a strange preponderance for massively flowing dresses on the covers of YA novels recently. I mean the kind of dress that would take eight friends to help carry the train (is it called a train?), and without whom the heroine would be trapped in an island of her own never ending fabric. I definitely agree with Renae on how unique covers stand out, but they’re so much more hit-and-miss than a close up shot of an attractive hero/heroine. Safe route or risky idiosyncrasy? Luckily with Renae it doesn’t seem to matter too much either way.]

2. Everybody enjoys different amounts of romance in their novels. Some want plenty of bodice ripping and graphic descriptions, while others are content for the action to take place off-page. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Is a strong romantic element necessary in a novel for it to really hold your interest? Can you nominate a novel that contains an example of your favorite flavor of romance?
I think romance can go both ways, and I enjoy books with “clean” romance just as much as I like books that get a bit more explicit. What makes the difference, for me, is how the author handles sex and/or romance. If you look at the YA genre, you’ll find a full spectrum of romantic “intensities,” if you will. What makes the difference for me is how any given author approaches the romantic aspect of his/her book, i.e. is there “slut shaming” or portraying an abusive relationship as “romantic” or adopting a holier-than-thou attitude toward teen sexuality. As a reader, romance isn’t a necessary ingredient towards making a good book, nor is it a turn off; it’s all about the presentation.  
All that being said, I’ve recently read A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet, and it has exactly the “flavor” of romance that I like best. Strong, plucky heroine with an attitude runs in with a dark and brooding man; the two become friends first (very important!), but the heroine is very determined to keep her independence and remain her own woman. However, she eventually comes to believe that she can love someone but still keep her individuality. 
I think that for me, I need my romantic partners to have a connection; they can’t just meet each other and become infatuated and then just “be” in love. I am a romantic at heart, but I don’t believe in love at first sight.

[Phil: Agreed. I have been perplexed by how popular abusive relationships are in novels, from Twilight to Shades of Gray and everything in between. The magic lies in an author’s ability to create chemistry, that enigmatic connection that pulls two characters together. The stronger the characters, the more fascinating their romance.]