Once, many moons ago, it was pointed out to be that my objections to the romance genre were largely the result of lingering, passive sexism and a considerable snobby streak. I’m okay with being a snob, but the sexism thing bothered me.
Self, I said, you cannot dismiss the entire genre just because it’s not targeted at white, male, middle-class readers. For one thing, you are not a fan of the patriarchy. For another thing, you get pissed off when people use the same thing to denigrate SF. Go ye and find yourself some romance books you like, or at least read enough that you’re informed about the genre and not operating under some appalling double-standard.
That was about ten years ago, more or less. These days…well, I still wouldn’t claim I’ve got a grasp on the genre, for the realms of romance are vast and wild, but I am a convert. I read a bunch of romance. Occasionally I’ll talk romance with a bunch of other romance fans and squee over the books I love. I know a bunch of romance writers who are releasing new and interesting work.
Plus, and this is a big one, I’ve adopted a simple philosophy that keeps me in contact with good romance fiction: when Sarah Wendell, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, recommends a book, I go forth and buy the damn book.
I am not Sarah Wendell, but I did like the following books enough that I’m strongly recommend them to readers who are interested in getting into the genre. Particularly readers of the bloke-ish, nerdy type.
THE FIVE BOOKS
Heyer was the first romance writer I encountered who I completely, unabashedly loved. She was recommended to me by all sorts of people, but primarily my friend Nic who I used to play C’thulhu with on a weekly basis, who won me over by loaning me Cotillion and a handful of other Heyer novels she had in her collection.
Now it’s eight or nine books later and I’m yet to find a Heyer that I don’t like, but Cotillion remains my steadfast favourite. It’s like an enormous piss-take of Pride and Prejudice where all the traits of the male characters are reversed: the brooding, Darcy-esque character turns out to be a completely unlikeable character, while the frivolous dandy obsessed with tying the perfect cravat is the chap every woman really should have in her life.
If you’re a chap, and you can make it through the book without having a major man-crush on Freddy, you’re a better man than I.
Kylie Scott’s latest series is taking Australia by storm at the moment, a succession of rock star romances that have earned regular places in stores like Target and K-Mart. Before she was writing the Stage Dive series, she started off with Australian digital publisher Momentum Books and released Flesh, a romance set during the zombie apocalypse that totally lives up to it’s elevator pitch.
Possibly the easiest book on this list to sucker non-romance readers into reading, ’cause…well…zombies. But it’s worth it.
If you’re not a writer, feel free to skip this entry. If you are a writer, I really recommend tracking a copy of this book down. Valarie Parv is one of the big names in Australian romance – she’s got awards named after her, mentors all sorts of successful writers, and seems to have emerged from SF fandom (at least, if you take the number of SF references in this book as an indication of being an SF fan).
The other thing, though, is that Valerie Parv knows her stuff. If you’ve ever actually used the phrase writing romance is easy or bought into the too-widely-spread belief that the category romance publishers have very specific templates for the books, The Art of Romance Writing will dispel your illusions. Then it will school you on the art of writing in general, as well as some specifics about romance novels, ’cause it turns out writers who know their shit are great at talking about their craft regardless of the genre they write.
I went to the Romance Writers of Australia conference last year, and one of the recurring constants that came through various presentations and conversations with Sarah Wendell over the weekend was “read Anne Gracie’s Bride By Mistake.”
Anne was a guest at GenreCon a few months later, and when I mentioned the difficulty I was having tracking down a copy of the book, she offered to send me one after the con was over. It showed up in my mailbox one afternoon, then promptly became the reason I showed up at work the following day with only three hours of sleep under my belt.
Let me put it simply: Bride By Mistake is phenomenal. And I don’t mean phenomenal for a romance book, I mean phenomenal by any real measure. And…well, here, let me just quote the blurb:
Eight years ago, Lieutenant Luke Ripton made a hasty wartime marriage-in-name-only tp protect a young girl from a forced union and left her protected in a remote mountain convent. Now, Luke is Lord Ripton, but he has been unable to obtain an annullment. Which leaves him no choice but to collect a wife he doesn’t want.
For eight years Isabella has waited like a princesss locked in a tower, dreaming of her handsome, dark-eyed prince. Her dreams are shattered when Luke reveals himself not as a prince, but an autocratic soldier, expecting her unquestioning obedience, which is something Isabella’s firecely independent nature will not tolerate.
Bride by Mistake the kind of book that people describe as charming because it damn well charms you, drawing you into its world and making you fall for its characters. It’s like that friend you’ve got who knows how to talk to everyone, and seems to accumulate new people just by walking through a room.
Go forth. Find this book. Be fucking charmed, okay?
I first started reading Lauren Dane’s work ’cause I read a review of her book Tart that mentioned it was a polyamourous romance. We had a rocky start, the book and I, as I mention in the post I linked too, but I’ll give Lauren Dane this: the woman can write some pretty steamy prose and some very sexy characters.
Then I spent a weekend reading her Delicious series and the associated Brown Family books on kindle not long after finishing Tart, and tossed up between putting Coming Undone or Laid Bare in this spot. Coming Undone won out ’cause I liked the characters more – Brody is kind of fascinating as a male lead; a motorcycle-riding tattoo artist who raised his younger siblings, then falls for the former ballerina who moves in across the road (Laid Bare I tend to enjoy more for it’s music references and the fact that it’s another poly romance).
THE ONE BLOG
I recommend following Smart Bitches, Trashy Books even if you aren’t interested in romance novels, because it’s pretty much a case study in how to build an awesome online community. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it could pretty much be subtitled “everything you ever assumed you knew about romance readers is wrong.”
Spend some quality time reading their regular features – particularly the Help a Bitch Out section – and you’ll see the evolutions romance has taken within the genre and encounter a bunch of truly passionate fans. The twelve months I spent reading this blog for work (no, really, it was for work) is pretty much responsible for converting me to an honest-to-god romance fan.
Plus, as I mentioned in the intro, when Sarah Wendell says “this is a good book,” you’re not going to be steered wrong.
So those are my five – plus a blog to follow – that I’d be using to lure people into romance reading. How ’bout you folks? Anyone got any romance favourites they’d like to recommend?