This post contains rather explicit language. But not, of course, over the top. Still, reading it aloud to your pre-teen is not advised unless you are extraordinarily open-minded.
I've only recently decided to explore the romance genre; after all, there are thousands of perfectly good not-romances out there, and I personally like a good murder or thriller above all things (you'll find a page of them elsewhere in this blog). Romances are, by reputation, simplistic and poorly-written, nicknamed "heaving bosom" by many. And why not? Take a look at the covers. Is anything more titillating (pardon the pun) than the pictures on the average romance? A partly-clothed, 38 triple D, swooning woman whose long, flowing hair only partly covers the inexplicably naked chest (with a six pack McConnaghey would kill for) of one of the world's most handsome men?
But wait. . .there's more. Read on if you like, and look at the bottom of the post for a list - evolving, I add to it from time to time - of some romance authors you might enjoy. Click here for more. . .
Okay, back to my original train of thought, which is how romance novels present themselves. Talk about branding! If one naked chest sells, a thousand should sell as well, that must be the thinking. I may be slightly retarded in this regard, but it's one of the things that stopped me from reading romances for so long. And then I think I got the low-hanging one instead of the hundreds I have come to thoroughly enjoy.
The other thing that initially turned me off (yes, I know, this could puzzle you) is the highly explicit nature of the intimate encounters between the at-odds protagonists. It's like most opera plots: makes no sense. First, they hate each other. Any woman who feels so negative about the handsome, hot-eyed stud whose hand she has allowed in her knickers is a very strange woman. If all you want to do is sock him, why choose your vagina as the weapon?
Okay, maybe we should cut the girl some slack. She's being threatened by (take your pick):
1. An evil guardian who wants to marry her to a drooling, elderly, pox-ridden scoundrel. Or, in a contemporary romance, perhaps an investment banker.
2. An evil UNSUB who is stalking her. Or sending her nasty notes. Or leaving telltales in her lingerie drawer.
3. An evil ghost with designs on her virtue/inheritance/reputation/child/BFF/poodle.
4. An evil relative who has the power to lock her up/kill someone she loves/destroy her reputation.
Well, as to this last, in many cultures, spending a night - or at times even an hour - alone with a man is sufficient to ruin a maiden's rep.
5. The hottie himself. He's the bad guy, right? Or is he the good guy?
In one romance, the hero actually orders the heroine to masturbate in front of him and, as he orders her about (poor thing hasn't a clue...does this then fall under the heading of Education, Sex?), she does it. And she loves it. Of course. Another WTF moment.
So, the girl is cut slack: we'll agree for the moment she has a right to have sex with the man of her choice, regardless of her emotional state. It's when she has no choice that I start to get annoyed. Many readers apparently like the notion of being tied up (physically or emotionally) and letting (at this point is letting even an issue?) a too-handsome stud have his way with her?
There are, according to the Kama Sutra, many ways to have sex. Some of the ones I've read would put you in traction for months (oooh, is that another way??). But in America, there's vanilla and there's non-vanilla, and in the former category we don't have a lot of variety. And, in the end (pardon the pun), we have no variety. It's the journey that has a bit of variety.
Variety. That's where the romance novel gets its toe in the door. This is one of the most popular genres in the world, battling it out with mysteries for top honors. Romances range from historical savagery to contemporary high-jinks. Regencies, Edwardian and Victoria, Scottish Highlander (what's with that, anyway, didn't anybody note the toothless, hairy, tattooed warriors in Braveheart?), there's even a Tuscan Billionaire series, a SEAL series, a first-responder series, a gay series, and a linebacker series. I'm waiting for the shy, retiring, librarian series (but I'm not holding my breath).
Essentials are the attract/repel between the main characters, a plot that keeps them apart (sometimes for the oddest reasons imaginable), and a denouement that makes a Fourth of July fireworks spectacle seem dull. Always, always is the implicit notion that Happily Ever After (HEA) will reign. Or at least HEA for now (AKA as HFN).
What I have found recently is that there are a lot of very good romance writers out there, and not all of them are named Jayne Krantz or Catherine Coulter or Christina Dodd. Here's a few you may have not become acquainted with. They are in no particular order:
Karen Rose writes contemporary romantic suspense, with a real edge. Her novels could make a great transition from mystery/procedural reading to something that has, at its heart, relationships/ romance/ sex.
Lauren Willig's marvelous Pink Carnation historical romance/spy series, starring winsome graduates of a secret British spy school in the Napoleonic era. Willig, who wrote the first novel while a law student, has since renounced torts and courts as she's now a romance superstar. Her delightful website, www.laurenwillig.com, gives you the entire list of novels. Do read them in order; all contain flower names, which by book eight gets a bit tiresome. But they are all marvelous fun.
No list is complete without the fabulous Jennifer Crusie, author of contemporary romance with detailed sex and hilarious dialogue, including Welcome to Temptation and Getting Rid of Bradley.
I add a recent find, Elinor Lipman, whose fiction - contemporary - is beautifully written and plotted, whose subject is relationships more than romance (can you separate the two?), and whose humor and understanding come through on every page. I think The Pursuit of Alice Thrift could be a great introduction to this author, and a wonderful gift.
Tara Taylor Quinn writes contemporary romance/suspense, but with a squeaky-clean edge that only could be appreciated by those whose moral principles wouldn't permit graphic depictions of sex and violence. If you like romance but need it unsullied, try this author. All sullying is done off-stage. Try Street Smart, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, for a start.
Historical romance authors are legion.
Of course, you can always search on this site for Romance, and you'll get a LOT of recommendations.