I’m a proud romance reader. Have been since the olden days when Fabio was all over the place and consent wasn’t always as...consent-y as we’d like it to be. (OK, I wasn’t as proud of reading those novels as I am of the novels that are out today, but you get my point.) And romance novels have come sooooooo far since then. There are so many great examples of empowering romance reads that I could talk all day on the subject and never run out of material. So imagine my surprise when I read a study showing that in 2017, the romance genre actually got LESS diverse than it was in prior years.
OK, y’all, I am on an epically bad book streak. I’ve failed to finish so many books lately that I’m starting to get a complex about it. (Is it me? Are these books really good and I’m the only one in the world who doesn’t love them? What’s wrong with me that I hate these books that everyone else seems to love? What if I never read another great book again? GAH!!!) So, here I am, humbly asking all you romance readers out there to help me out. What are YOU reading and loving right now? Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll have for me:
In looking through the search terms that have brought folks to the Romance Rehab site over the past few months, I have to say that I was kind of surprised. I figured the biggest draws would be our Friday “best of” list posts, or the 5-star reviews page, or even our author interviews. And while those pages have garnered a good bit of attention, (a great big thank you to all of you who visit those pages regularly! *big wave and smile*) there’s a slew of searches from people looking for free copies of books. Not books that are on sale or offering giveaways, mind you. These folks are looking for pirate book sites that offer free copies of an author’s work without that author’s permission.
A romance novel’s blurb is one of the main things I look at before I decide whether or not to 1-click. Sure, I look at the cover and I glance at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but nothing scares me off a book faster than a bad blurb. If I don’t like the blurb, I won’t even read sample chapters. Why bother? In my experience (which is vast--scarily vast, like the frozen Russian tundra, people), if the blurb sucks, the book will, too. So, what constitutes a good blurb versus a bad blurb? Well, here are a few red flags I’ve found in romance novel blurbs that almost always indicate the book will suck ass (authors, please take note):
Even though Hillary Clinton might not agree, romance novels have come a long way since 1972’s The Flame and the Flower. You don’t often seen heroes raping heroines these days. (Thank God) There are strong female role models all over the genre in just about every romance category. But there’s one thing that was common in the romance novels of the seventies that you still find a lot of today, and that’s virgins.
There aren’t really any prejudices that are socially acceptable anymore. It’s not OK to discriminate against anyone because of their gender, race, religious and cultural beliefs, or sexual orientation, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Yet so many people see nothing wrong with openly criticising an entire genre of fiction, or with side-eyeing that genre’s fans and asking why they don’t read something more worthy of their time. That’s right, I’m (still) talking about the romance novel stigma.
Not my normal genre, but…
While scrolling through Amazon looking for my next TBR, I noticed something peculiar. In the reviews for Caught, a historical romance by Christina J Michaels, I saw several comments from readers who felt the need to add disclaimers to their comments. For example:
We get asked a lot of questions here at Romance Rehab. The most popular are:
The answer to the first one is easy. Check out our 5-star reads section, or our 1-click wonders section. The second question is pretty simple, too. The answer is maybe. Check out our review guidelines. But the third question...well, that’s where things get a little dicey.
If you read paranormal romance, you’ve heard of (and probably read) JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, and her other books set in that world. These books are fairly universally loved, usually garnering thousands of glowing reviews and ensuring the author will pretty much live on every bestseller list for weeks (or months) following each new release. (The hype is warranted, too. The series is fabulous. But I digress…) So when I found out that JR Ward had a new release, I checked out Blood Fury on Amazon eagerly and immediately. That’s where I noticed something weird. Something I’m not used to seeing on JR Ward books.
Back in the old days (sometime after dinosaurs roamed the earth, but before Amazon had a stranglehold on the book selling market—back when I was a teenager, in other words), the difference between porn, erotica, romance and romantic erotica was vividly clear. Erotica was relegated to a tiny back corner of the local indie bookstore, while porn inhabited a small little back corner of the Books and Company (my medium-sized town’s only mainstream bookstore). Meanwhile, romance took up half of both stores.
But today, the lines between porn, erotica, romance, and romantic erotica are so blurred that it’s nearly impossible to separate the categories on Amazon. Folks looking for good old-fashioned romance have to sort through page after page of misclassified porn and erotica to find it, and folks looking for porn and erotica have to filter out all the romance to find what they want. It’s frustrating and confusing, and readers everywhere are asking, what’s the difference? What constitutes porn, erotica, romance, and romantic erotica? We’re glad you asked. Here’s our take on it.
When I first watched The Force Awakens, I told my husband about the crazy-sexy chemistry I noticed between the Big Bad, Kylo Ren, and Rey, the last-nameless junk dealer who is just brimming with raw Jedi talent. He looked at me like I was nuts. (Not exactly a rare occurrence in our house, but still, it was mildly insulting) He pointed out that the film was clearly setting up a relationship between Finn, the Stormtrooper turned rebel hero and Rey, to which I said, Pfffttt. Those two will never be anything more than friends. There’s no chemistry there. (Now, Finn’s chemistry with fly boy Poe...well, that’s another story entirely. But I digress…)
Then just last week we went to see The Last Jedi, and I came away from it feeling pretty darn smug. This time around, there’s NO denying that the real relationship in this film series is between Kylo Ren and Rey. (Known from this point forward as “Reylo”) And I doubt there’s a romance novel lover out there who would disagree with me. Let me prove it.
(****Contains spoilers for The Last Jedi*****Proceed at your own risk*******)
Not too long ago, I was the biggest paranormal romance fan out there. And no, not because of Twilight. I loved vampires and shifters and witches and fae long before Bella stumbled clumsily into Edward’s arms (and Jacob’s arms, too, for that matter. She sure did stumble a lot, didn’t she?). But lately, my love for the paranormal has waned somewhat. I’m starting to feel like I’ve read pretty much everything out there. I’m seeing the same old tropes and characters over and over (and over and over) again. But I don’t just want to give up on a genre that has brought me so much entertainment over the years. So, what’s a paranormal romance novel addict to do? No, seriously—I’m asking. What should I read, y’all? But before you start offering your suggestions, let me tell you what I’m NOT looking for:
Look, we’re usually the first people in the room to advocate for romance novels. We even wrote a pretty thorough defense of the genre as a whole a while back. The fact of the matter is that we LOVE romance novels, and we think they’ve come a long way from the old bodice rippers of the 70s and early 80s. But we’re also not blind. As much love as we have for romance (and it’s A LOT), there are still some lingering sexist tropes that we’d like to stomp out of existence—for the good of the genre, all readers, and all women, really. For example:
We’ve all played dump, date or marry at some point in our lives. It never really gets old, does it? With that in mind, we’ve got a good one for you. Which one of these contemporary romance novel heroes would you dump, date, or marry? We’ve got our answers, even though it was anything but easy to decide (see below)...
Look, we realize our audience is probably 90% women, and this post might not reach a ton of dudes. That’s OK. Because we still want to help the men out there. Just because the majority of them aren’t in our reading audience, doesn’t mean we like the thought of them blindly stumbling through this holiday season, making gifting faux paus that could haunt them for years to come. If we can help only a handful of dudes make smart buying decisions this year, so be it. With that in mind, ladies, we’re asking that you pass this one along to the men in your lives. (Subtly, of course. Let them think they found this one all on their own.) So, without further ado, here is our list of gifts you should NEVER give the woman in your life: