Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why I love romance novels and why some of them are bad

This past weekend, I checked out a couple romance novels I had requested from the San Francisco Book Review. The thing about being a volunteer and/or paid book reviewer, is you have to read a lot of bad books to get to a good one and the good ones are kind of like a little morsel of awesome in your life that you cling to for as long as possible before it's back to the crap-slog. There's no good recommends from your friends because you're the one discovering what's good and what's not.

Everyone feels the burnout. And when you read more than 50 books a year, you feel it acutely. It's hard to feel the earnestness and optimism from a new voice when you're so bitter and cynical about something you've just read the week before.

But let me talk about romance novels for a while because I'm kind of an enthusiast.

Here's a picture of an advance review copy of a romance novel. This one was literally a stack of papers held together by brass fasteners. Side note - I would kill (ok, not literally) to be a part of the book-creation process, whether it's acquisitions or copy editing. Literally my dream job. So if you're an important person in a publishing house and you're reading this, hit me up bae.

Reading a Regency-era romance is one of my most favorite things. It's like eating a pint of ice cream for dinner. I love Eloisa James the best because she brings this ethereal fairy-tale like style to her writing. In fact, most Regency romance is like a fairy tale. There are dresses, parties, dashing rich men and campy villains (sometimes.) But here's where it can go wrong:

Stockholm syndrome: When the story sets up the hero and heroine to be isolated in one spot and they fall in love that way. With the books I read, I wonder about the future. If my logical brain can't wrap itself around a romance novel relationship enduring, I tend not to enjoy it.

No hook: The characters have to endear themselves to me. Fast. With romance novels, it's tough because they read so quickly.

No focus: Romance novels are first and foremost about two people getting together. I don't mind politics, social stratification, family members, etc., having a part in the development of a relationship, but if there's too much of that, I can't stay focused because the novel isn't focused.

Dumb-as-bricks heroine: The heroine is supposed to be the pasteboard for your reader. That beautiful dress your heroine is wearing, that ball she just went to, that searing kiss she just received -- that's your reader's dress, your reader's ball and your reader's kiss. Your readers are smart. So make your heroine smart, too. Have her stand her ground and make her own decisions because it's what your reader would do.

Mansplainy hero: The dumb-as-bricks heroine and the mansplainy hero tend to go hand-in-hand. The dumb-as-bricks heroine doesn't know how to do something in life and the hero teaches her how to do it. Sometimes that thing is sex, which is an annoying relationship dynamic in Regency romance (seasoned man vs. virginal woman nonsense double standard trope,) but you just kind of deal with it. That's when modern romance is more fun. But then you get into situations with traditional gender dynamics and that's a story for another day.

So good.

I read "The Girl on the Train" this week, and that was a heart-pounder. What a good book. I started reading it Tuesday night and I stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing it. Don't you just love books like that? I'm not going to spoil it because I actually want you to read it. I only spoil books that I don't want you to read! A lot of people compare it to "Gone Girl." It's like a Lifetime movie on steroids. In fact, it's going to be a movie in August!

I also read Tom Brokaw's book, "A Lucky Life Interrupted." You can see my review here.

In the queue:
The Moreva of Astoreth
The Bourne Identity
The Circle
Clockwork Angel
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Our Kind of Traitor
Jessica Jones: Alias

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