Spoiler: They Make Babies

The great experiment.

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on May 27, 2011

My Other of Some Significance (MOSS) is currently reading Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh.  He is not, as they say, doing this especially for his health.  He’s reading the book because he has agreed to  do a podcast with me.  I chose a book that’s in my personal top ten.  (Balogh may be hit or rapey, but when she hits, she hits big with me.)  I chose one of my favorites because the purpose of the podcast is ostensibly to record a conversation between someone familiar with romance novel tropes (that would be me) and someone who has only minimal experience with the genre (him).  MOSS is not averse to romance novels, but since his experience with genre fiction is in sci-fi and fantasy, he’s coming to romances without any of the learned codes that have become near-instinct for me.

We already had a bit of a genre disconnect.  When I told MOSS about the book, I noted that it was part of a series.  MOSS hesitated and looked confused.  “A romance series,” I clarified.  He altered the degree of his eyebrow tilt, but did not look sufficiently illuminated. I explained that quite often, while books in a romance series are related, they are not precisely sequential.  Usually what constitutes a series is that the various heroes and heroines are somehow related to one another.  The previous book’s characters may show up to be happily wed and spawning in the next book, but that’s usually the extent of the continuity.

With that being said, here are the other titles in what I tend to refer to as the “Slightly series”:  Slightly Married, Slightly Wicked, Slightly Scandalous, Slightly Tempted, Slightly Sinful. (I didn’t say that my name for the series was imaginative.)

The books detail the marriages of the Bedwyn siblings.  In  Slightly Married, Lord Aidan Bedwyn, the second-born son, marries Eve Morris in order to save her estate, after promising her dying brother on the battlefield at Toulouse to take care of her no matter what.  In Slightly Scandalous, Joshua Moore (Marquess of Hallmere), takes a few punches to the nose from Freyja Bedwyn and lives to tell the married tale.  In Slightly Wicked, Judith Law is a parson’s daughter who pretends to be an actress, bangs Rannulf Bedwyn, and eventually marries him in spite of himself.  Slightly Tempted tells the story of Gervase Ashford (Earl of Rosthorn), who pursues Morgan Bedwyn to spite Wulfric, but ultimately falls in love.  Finally, Rachel York falls for Alleyne Bedwyn in Slightly Sinful, but does so while he has massive amnesia after a head trauma on the battlefield.

Slightly Dangerous, which tells the story of the eldest brother Wulfric Bedwyn, is my favorite of the series, with Slightly Scandalous running a close second.  These two novels are the strongest, in my opinion, because their female characters come the closest to real-life heroines.  They’re sharp, funny, and stubborn, and are neither perfect nor laughable.  In these novels, too, the woman of the pair is resistant to the man’s charms.  I’m interested to see what MOSS thinks of that.  It will probably just seem awfully familiar to the poor man.

Stay tuned for a link, which will come soon after we record the podcast.  And expect regular updates on Fridays each week!

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Posted in Romance Review by firstmatejess on February 1, 2011

This Christmas, My Other of Some Significance (MOSS) included in his gifts a romance novel, which he had happened upon during a shopping trip at a superstore.  Purchasing romance novels for a fanatic can be a dicey process, since part of the pleasure of romance novels is whether or not they fulfill your particular interests.  I can read the heck out of a disability-themed novel (“I MAY BE A CRIPPLE, BUT YOU DON’T SEE ME CRYING ABOUT IT”), but I don’t have much patience for baby-themed books (“THIS BABY NEEDS A FATHER! I SURE HOPE A PENIS WANDERS OVER THIS WAY”).

Harlequin series romance is the most recognizable to the average non-romance reader, and it is statistically more likely to be baby-themed.1 Picking out a category romance is a far more difficult process, since non-romance readers aren’t familiar with the codes of romance publishing.  I can scan the spines of romances at the bookstore and have some idea of which ones are right for me.  To an average person, the array is bewildering, and the back copy seems all the same.

The book MOSS picked out, however, was a perfect gift; that is, it was something I wanted, but which I wouldn’t have bought for myself.  MOSS picked out J.R. Ward’s newest paperback,  Lover Mine; a reader of this blog had recommended that I check out Ward’s work, but I had yet to get around to it.  I ended up reading the book in two days. While I am a speedy reader, it’s still a positive sign when I finish a 600+ page book in less than a week.

Under the fold is a summary of the various plotlines of the book.   Caveats: Lover Mine is the last in a series, so there is a possibility of spoilers for the entire series; there are scenes of rape and imprisonment in the novel, which necessitate a trigger warning; and, finally, there are several vampire boners. Although if you have a problem with pointy-toothed men with raging boners you should just go away, because there’s nothing for you here.  Nothing.


Ladyparts be good! (Part 2.)

Posted in Romance Review by firstmatejess on May 26, 2010

In my first post on this subject, I wrote about Anna Campbell’s Untouched. Here, I’ll be discussing Georgina Gentry’s Diablo. This book is even MORE ridiculous than Untouched. One thing I’ll note, before I continue, is that there’s a lot of sexual assault mentioned and described in this book.  I have to mention some of it in my review, since it’s essential to the plotline.  This book (and as a result, this review) is one of those ones that deserves a trigger warning.

Ladyparts be good! (Part 1.)

Posted in Romance Review by firstmatejess on May 23, 2010

At a party this past weekend, the man my friend is dating was discussing romance novels with me.  I had admitted — as I have only recently begun admitting in person — that I read the dreaded things.  He expressed the usual surprise (with the usual soupçon of consternation) and asked, “So– are there good romance novels?”

I’ve gotten this question quite a few times before.  I’ve thought of so many answers, ranging from the obtuse to the snide.   In the moment, though, my answers always desert me.  “Oh, sure,” I said, “there’s lots!  There are even English professors who write romance novels.”  My cunning answers deserted me, in other words, and I was left with eager-to-please-itude.  Oh, please like my girly novels, despite their icky girliness!  THEY’RE BETTER THAN THE SUM OF THEIR (LADY)PARTS!

If I’d had any grasp on my brain or my tongue, I would have discussed what makes something good.  As with any genre, whether or not there are good romance novels really does depend on what you mean by ‘good.’  There are romance novels that I would recommend to anyone with an easy heart and a clear conscience, because they feature interesting plots, evocative writing, and funny bits. (Funny bits are very much required, in my thinking.)  Even if we agree on these characteristics, though, there will be debate about whether or not the book actually fulfills the requirements, because someone won’t like it. That’s really the whole phenomenon of popular aesthetics, right there: “I love this shit therefore it is SUBLIME and sublime is GOOD and therefore this shit I love is GOOD.”

More often than not, the romance novels I read are in a murky area of ‘good’ness.  A book might be nicely structured, well-written, funny, well-researched, fascinating, but because the plot is constructed out of High Dramatics, I can’t quite recommend it to your casual man-acquaintance.  Sometimes the book doesn’t have a damn thing to recommend it beyond its High Dramatics, and I hide the cover when I read it on the train.  Yet I find both kinds of books ‘good.’  What these kinds of romance novels have, what makes them good, is indulgence.

These kinds of books exist in every genre.  My Other of Some Significance is currently reading a novel in the fantasy genre that is indulgent to the extreme: the hero is a poor orphan who turns out to be a prodigy in magic.  The prodigy undergoes intense trials, of course, but he emerges victorious with a snappy comeback on his lips.  MOSS is loving this book.  These books might be embarrassing, after all, and you might not recommend them to your friends, but you can churn through them like a box of Ding Dongs.

I’ve read two highly indulgent romances recently.  The first is Anna Campbell’s Untouched, which I took out from the local library, and which I will cover in this post. The second is Georgina Gentry’s Diablo, which will have its own post.  If you continue below the fold, be prepared for spoilers! Millions of spoilers! DUDE THEY TOTALLY HAVE SEX AND MAKE BABIES– oh, sorry, forgot to put in the break.


Love me, love my “primitives.”

Posted in Romance Review by firstmatejess on March 27, 2010
Bad dog, no biscuit.

Jennifer Crusie's Cinderella Deal.

I had to give a presentation to a non-profit group recently, on contemporary gender theory and feminism. I pulled a pair of nylons out of my drawer, realized they had foot smudges on them, and carefully pulled them on so that the foot smudges were on the bottom of my feet again.

This scene is reminiscent of a lot of what’s called “chick lit”: a woman doing femininity, but doing it badly. While Jennifer Crusie writes for the same purposes as a lot of chick lit — for a long time she was shelved in the fiction section at my local Borders, same as The Devil Wears Prada — her heroines are absolute failures at femininity. They wear bizarre outfits, don’t want to have children, pack on extra pounds, leave their successful career to try to be an artist, and take in stray dogs. They’re usually a little miserable.

What appeals about the heroine who does femininity badly is that she’s still part of normal society, but I can relate to her. Crusie’s heroines are different. If they could just be a little different — a little more typically feminine or a little more tough-skinned — they could really make it. As it is, though, they’re just barely getting by.

I am a unremitting sucker for this narrative, as those of you who’ve met me might imagine. My daily life is less about smudgy stockings and more about making dirty jokes at staff meetings. (Goats are hilarious, and yet no one laughs at my goats-in-thongs jokes. What gives?)


Love is Not the Brightest Crayon in the Box

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on March 5, 2010

A short summary of Lynsay Sand’s Love Is  Blind goes a little something like this: blind girl finds scarred love, triumphs over evil and shoddy reputation.  What this leaves out, though, is that the heroine is about as smart as a bag of drunk weasels.


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This grape tastes funny.

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on February 26, 2010

I purchased What I Did for Love (2009), by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, on a random bookstore trip.  After I’d finished that, I decided to reread one of my favorite of Phillips’ books, Dream a Little Dream (1998).  When I went to the library, only a few days later, I found one of Phillips’ novels that I hadn’t read yet, Breathing Room (2003).  One of the dangers of reading three novels by the same author in rapid succession, I found, is that the author’s formula becomes glaringly obvious.


A very short review.

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on February 19, 2010

Robin T. Popp’s Immortals: The Haunting, in brief:

Dreamwalking, gunfights,
Genies, kidnappings, magic–
Still no chemistry.

If you like wacky supernatural hijinks and don’t really care why the hero and heroine find each other attractive — or are willing to accept “spirit mates” as an excuse — then you might enjoy this book.  I certainly finished it!

Shut up, Miranda.

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on February 11, 2010

I bought The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, by Julia Quinn, because of the back of the book:

“2 March 1810…
Today, I fell in love.”

At the age of ten, Miranda Cheever showed no signs of Great Beauty. And even at ten, Miranda learned to accept the expectations society held for her– until the afternoon when Nigel Bevelstoke, the handsome and dashing Viscount Turner, solemnly kissed her hand and promised her thhat one day she would grow into herself, that one day she would be as beautiful as she already was smart.  And even at ten, Miranda knew she would love him forever.

But the years that followed were as cruel to Turner as they were kind to Miranda. She is as intriguing as the viscount boldly predicted on that memorable day– while he is a lonely, bitter man, crushed by a devastating loss. But Miranda has never forgotten the truth she set down on paper all those years earlier– and she will not allow the love that is her destiny to slip lightly through her fingers…

It has several of my favorite romance tropes: the smart girl who isn’t traditionally pretty, lengthy amounts of pining, and a hero in appropriate amounts (vast!) of manpain.  Many of the reviews at Amazon say the same thing — the tropes drew them in — and many of them agree with me that the book was a real letdown.


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Spoiler: They Make Cubs!

Posted in Romance Review by spoilerbaby on February 6, 2010

Sometimes I go to the bookstore and buy a romance novel, not because I really want to own a particular romance novel, but because I really need to buy a romance novel.  I imagine this is fairly common, at least in a capitalist society; the act of buying a romance novel is kind of like telling myself, “you deserve a break! your mental well-being is totally worth $7.99 plus tax!”

When I went to the bookstore about a week ago, I browsed through my usual raft of authors, and read the backs of a bunch of regencies.  I couldn’t find anything that really grabbed me, though.  After about a half-hour of searching, I finally decided to check out the supernatural romances.  It would be broadening my horizons!  I quickly ruled out any and all vampire novels — I’m easily annoyed by vampires in literature — and mostly focused on shapeshifters and other spookery.*

The book I picked up was Pride Mates, the first in the “Shifters Unbound” series by Jennifer Ashley.  What followed was a confusing reading experience; it was simultaneously a compelling book and COMPLETELY wackadoodles.