Tag Archives: Romance

Let’s get specific – Medieval: Vikings

So I recently posted about how medieval romance, and the medieval manbeasts that go with it were my current flavour. I now feel the need to revise and specifiy this statement – oh lordy, it’s all about the Viking this month. And this surpries me. Genuinely, it does. For a start, blondes do not work for me at all. Give me blue black hair any day of the week. Second, in general these Viking books normally contain at least one rapey scene, which does not work for me. But on the other hand, having left Paris, which I have t say was full to the brim of lanky, greasy, stinking of smoke, pretensious man-children. So bring on some huge fighting raiders, as I have sorely missed any testosterone outbursts. So I must admit, I am immensley enjoying my imaginary relationships with the most chauvinistic, mysoginistic, objectifying characters, I could possibly find. And I’ll deal with feminist me later.

For Viking reads, I have recently read and enjoyed:

Loki‘s Daughters by Delle Jacobs

Savagery by Emma MacKenziealexander-skarsgard-shirtless

Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey

Fires of Winter by Johanna Lindsey

Hearts on Fire by Johanna Lindsey

Cedi to my Heart by Johanna Lindsey

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Hot Right Now – Medieval Romance

The only scratch to my current itch seems to be medieval romance. it is without doubt trumping regency and contemporary tales for me at the moment, and though I am attempting to refrain from psychoanalysing my new found fancy for big brutish men, I cannot deny that I have been enjoying them of late. (Cheeky smile). So this post is basically about why medieval romance is awesome.

First, though it goes against my feminist grain to say so – the women are genuinely damsels in distress, and in the best cases, more than willing to scrap to save themselves. Because of the medieval context, this works for me, as women did have little to no rights those days, and it would have been nigh on impossible to do anything without the help of a man. Contrast this to the simpers and wimpers of contemporary romance, and for me, it’s decidedly preferable. When I read about some helpless ninny in contemporary romance, Gabriel’s Inferno, for example, I am irritated, annoyed, and instantly dislike her. In modern times, a woman does absolutely not need a man to run in and save her, she has everything she needs to save herself. Medieval women did not, and so I find the whole ‘hero swoops in and saves her’ story more believable, and the characters more realistic.

Second, without doubt, is that the Earls and Lords of Regency romance tales are boring me. They don’t work, and have no more stress in their lives than an overbearing mother who wants them married, and the pressure of inheriting a huge estate worth millions. So difficult. So stressful. Nobody would change places with guy in that position right? But, enter the medieval knights, and they actually do stuff. They wield swords and fight battles and build cannons etc. Clearly, I can see that the crusades were an unfounded, pointless war in a country that had nothing to do with England. But I watched Robin Hood far too much as a child to dislike the Knights who fought in the crusades. They’re ‘proper men’ if you pardon the simplicity.

I know that as a modern woman I should not enjoy reading about big old ‘he-men’ who either shoot, eat or marry whatever crosses their path….but I do. In fantasy, despite what my brain tries to think, medieval times are the perfect setting. A woman can be helpless and need a man without being pathetic or weak. It is simply a fact. And a man can be an overbearing brute, but merely a sign of the times, and so long as he exposes a softer side, everybody does seem to be happier.

From what I can tell, there is very much a reason why women still refer to a ‘Knight in Shinign Armour’ coming to sweep them off their feet.

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Deflowered Is Not Devalued

It is a standard character fixture in every historical romance novel – the hero is a rake, cad, and bounder, and the heroine is a virgin. At her most scandalous, she may have kissed a guy or two. Harking back to the era and the context, this is an entirely natural characteristic of females, as to have sex before marriage would have left them ruined, compromised, possibly even disowned and in a convent. Therefore the stereotype of women being pure while men gallivant around town spreading their seed is entirely justified in historical romance.

However, contemporary romance novels, set in a time with supposed gender equality and women’s liberation, also follow the virgin/man whore plot line to and alarming extent. And what I want to know is, why? It is 2013, and most girls of college student age are sexually active. I’m not saying they’re sluts, I’m not saying they sleep around, but as a society we apparently accept that physical intimacy in a relationship is one of the most important aspects of any healthy relationship. There are obviously the girl-talk discussions over when it’s OK to go to bed with the guy you’re dating, and the best answer is usually when it feels right. I’m not saying women should bulldoze forward and prove their sexual equality by pouncing on every guy who looks interested, what I’m saying is that there is no shame, or character flaw, for not being a virgin in your late teens or early twenties.

And yet, so many books seem keen to push the point. Their amazing, beautiful, funny, passionate heroines, make it to adulthood without ever being remotely interested in anyone, then only have sex with the guy they are completely in love with, who, in the epilogue, they are usually married to.

Fifty Shades of Grey showed a twenty one year old Ana Steele, who is described as beautiful, lovely, and is quite clearly kinky as hell, but had never done more than ‘make out’ with a guy before. The same in Beautiful Disaster – girls swoon over Travis Maddox, who ‘bags’ anything with long legs and boobs on his couch, but he falls for virginal Abby Abernathy. In Fate Interrupted, twenty eight year old Evy had only ever been with her fiance. And then there are the girls who go the other way – the heroines in Bared to You and the Blackstone affair used sex when they were younger to try to deal with what they were going through, and now have very different attitudes.

It seems to me that the gender roles in some of the most celebrated contemporary romance novels are far outdated. A woman can be classy, choosy, and completely in control of her sex life without being a virgin. The same as a man can be sexy, rich and powerful, without living on a diet of one night stands. I had hoped that in this modern day era, while it is a fact that men can get away with more than women, there was in fact some sexual equality, and that women could have healthy sex lives without being looked down upon. It appears I was wrong.

Obviously losing your virginity is a big deal, and shouldn’t be given to just anyone. But it is also true that a girl doesn’t have to be a virgin to be innocent and guileless. Come on guys, we all know that women no longer “lie back and think of England” – it is not scandalous for a girl to enjoy sex, and have more than one sexual partner before she meets Mr Right.

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Less is More….Or Do Some Like It Hot???

marilynSex is everywhere, and I don’t even mean explicit, society ruining raunchy porn. Casual references, innuendos, even the M&S lingerie adverts are pretty hot stuff, and appear on TV and the sides of buses without so much as raising an eyebrow. Serious novels contain sex, though often not as a large part of the plot, so surely any romance readers would be expecting to become more than slightly hot under the colour. Let’s be honest, a lot of best selling contemporary romances are based on sex – from Fifty Shades, to Bared to You, to almost every Danielle Steele ever written – without the sex, there would be very little going on, and even less connecting to characters. Good old fashioned bodice rippers generally pivot around sex, the ‘ruination’ of a girl, or the scandal of lust being common plot features. I’m not one of those ‘nowadays the world is terrible’ people – look at Baudelaire‘s Fleurs du Mal, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, even Tess of the d’Urbervilles has that barnyard scene where she licks cream off the fingers of Angel Clare. Saucy and suggestive, oioi.

So, I do believe it can be forgiven to expect a little sex from a modern romance. Obviously, some are better than others, some are cringey, and some are almost non existent. I recently read two of the books from the Brides of Bath series, where there was little plot, and very little sex to go with it. There was literally no saving grace to the novels. I mean, yes I’m sick of contemporary romances involving rich men, young girls, and  damaged pasts. I’m sick of contemporary romances that rely on tired old tactics of ‘being caught in a compromising position’ and ‘accidentally falling in love with one’s own husband.’ But, with a little spice, these books can sometimes be at least a little enjoyable. I’m not some sex crazed loon – if a book has a great plot, I absolutely would not recommend adding sex just for the sake of it. But, when seeking escapism, a flighty bippity bop romance, there’s a requirement to get the blood pounding just a bit. If I want less, I’d read Austen, or my all time favourite, Elizabeth Gaskell. Less is great in a novel that has an awesome plot, contextual restraints, and sparring characters actually conversing. But in the whirl of romantic novels that have plots that are little more than fluff…..it’s necessary up turn up the heat!

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Book Review – Tempting the Bride, Sherry Thomas

tempting the bride I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. And I can explain exactly why in two words: They talk.  Halle-fricking-lujah! Finally. My constant pet peeve with romance novels is that the main characters don’t ever seem to have a full conversation. They’re all far too lusty and distracted by whatever drama is keeping them apart. However, with Tempting the Bride you can read the two protagonists verbally attacking each other, in the form of memories of the protagonist, David, and also the tender conversations they have while the heroine, Helena is recovering. David has loved Helena all his life, but after initial rejection has been ruled by his pride and made somewhat of an enemy of her, with constant jibes and taunts. However, on the day her affair with a married man is about to be discovered, David steps in, saving her reputation, but also resulting on their elopement.

Thus begin the pitfalls. Yes, I love that the protagonists talk, and thus have a chronicled relationship. However, other aspects of the plot could quite easily be categorized as lazy. For example, Helena gets amnesia. Seriously. Tale as old as time, however here it means that she and her husband, who her present self despises, have a chance to start over. Which is nice, in a very sickly sweet, predictable way.

They were forced into marriage after she was compromised, and then fell in love. I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly how many marriages were the result of being ‘compromised’ but it would be nice if something else compelled a marriage ever once in a while. There are surely hundreds of reasons why two people must marry, and being caught with a man is just one of them. It would be great if authors could explore more please.

Yes, this book is predictable. Yes, it is also clichéd. But the plot beneath the plot, the actual relationships that blossom are really well done. so if you can get past the superficial elements of the book, you may be surprised about how much you enjoy it. The sex scenes are pretty hot too.

 

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Book Review – Fate Interrupted, Kaitlyn Cross

Fate InterruptedFate Interrupted is currently one of the most popular novels on Amazon under the romance genre. It is a contemporary romance novel describing the blossoming relationship between Dean, a lawyer, and Evy a cupcake baker/barmaid, whose love story takes place in Milwaukee.
However, despite the book’s popularity, I personally found that the plot fell victim to several common pitfalls and clichés. I want to know why every beautiful, sexy, confident woman in a romance novel is a virgin, or only ever been with one guy. This is nice, and I’m not saying that hot girls should be promiscuous, but every guy seems to be a player. And there seems to be some massive gender gap here, which is absolutely never, in my experience, reversed. A girl can be classy even having slept with more than one guy, and a guy can be sexy and confident without having to prove it with regular one night stands.
There is then the ever infuriating (for me personally) hotshot business man, with the girl who makes cupcakes. Don’t get me wrong, Evy is smart, pretty and talented, but I’m just sick of heroines who enjoy baking, sewing, teaching etc. I’m not disparaging these careers for women, but there is no doubt that these days women have the option to do more than pursue feminine tasks. Give me a heroine who’s a doctor instead of a nurse, the lawyer instead of the victim client, or the hotshot business woman instead of the chick who needs advice from one. Novels such as Fate Interrupted, the Cupcake Café, and Candy Store have all mounted my frustrations. I’d love for a couple of romance authors to give the Good Wife a watch – women can be smart and high powered as well as sexy. If I want to read about feminine females, then I’d pick up historical, not contemporary romances. Though even then, I prepare the heroine to have a feisty, sassy, unpredictable side.
Then there is the modern-day urgency that just doesn’t translate. You know how in a horror movie, the characters do something and you’re sat thinking ‘Why? Surely someone would call the police right about now?’ Well in Fate Interrupted, our hero Dean is in fact a lawyer, who ends up in dire straits being blackmailed by a city alderman. I mean, seriously. An apparently capable lawyer, who doesn’t even try to challenge or fight back with the alderman, but instead gives in to all his demands, and does nothing but sulk about it. It just doesn’t seem realistic. And how much power does an alderman really have? The ridiculousness of this situation just felt a bit silly and over exaggerated to me. There are so many things Dean could have done, and so much legal actions that could have brought the alderman to his knees, that the plot loses credibility for me.
The final pitfall, and this is one that has been dawning on me gradually, is the absolute lack of conversation, or anything other than lust between the protagonists before they realize they are in love. It’s clear they are in lust, but I feel like the reader deserves a little more character depth and dialogue before the L-word is thrown out. I want to know why they love each other, that doesn’t involve playtime between the sheets. I mean, most women know that you don’t necessarily fall in love with a guy because he’s great in bed – it’s the thousand other things about them that make you swoon.
Fate interrupted has some steamy sex scenes and pretty intense chemistry between the characters, but if you’re looking for something with substance to go with sex, I’d maybe keep looking.

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Rape in Romance – It Is NOT Romantic

        Drug rape is wrong. Fact.

Throughout my years as a reader, I’ve noticed that for every few romance novels I read, a rape pops up. And then it’s casually dismissed and forgiven – like it’s all ok, he just couldn’t control his desire for her. Although real life rape is generally more about power and control than sexual desire, there are romance novels which include rape which is all about the man controlling his partner/wife, and using sex to do so.

My first experience of this was in the Calder series, by Janet Dailey. In book number one, This Calder Range the protagonist, Benteen has some serious mother and abandonment issues. As newlyweds, they set off on a somewhat harrowing journey from Texas to Montana, during which, she threatens to leave him. Now, I get that Benteen has Mommy issues, and doesn’t trust women not to abandon him. I even understand his anguish at his wife wanting to leave. What I do not understand is that he rapes her, and the consequences are that she is wary of him for a little while, until she discovers he might be visiting prostitutes while she’s denying him, and so she rushes back to his bed. The fact that we are supposed to forgive Benteen, see his reasoning behind the rape, and accept that he raped her because he loved her so much is just ridiculous to me. He used his strength and brutality as a man and did the worst thing possible to a woman, all to exert his authority and punish her for wanting to leave him. This was entirely about power and control. It is an extremely unhealthy attitude that haunted marriages until marital rape was recognised, and is still an excuse often used for abuse today. Rape is unforgivable, and a lot of women would be pleased the man who attacked them was slaking his lust elsewhere – they would not be jealous of it. This medieval attitude ruined a book I would have otherwise really enjoyed – the men in the rest of the series are really so much better.

An interesting take on rape occurs in Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey. In this instance, there is a bit of gender bending going on, in that the heroine, Rowena, rapes a man, Warrick de Chaville, after her step brother has kidnapped him (she needs to get pregnant to secure her step brother’s lands and armies – her husband dies on their wedding day so they kidnap a man with the same hair and eye colour. She is unwilling, but the step brother threatens to kill her mother).  As revenge, Warrick then kidnaps Rowena and gives her the same treatment, for he is a men hell bent on vengeance to anybody who crosses him. However, obviously, for a woman to rape a man, he must be aroused. Warrick climaxes every time Rowena rapes him, and so during his revenge, which is to be ‘like for like’ he arouses her, and ensures she orgasms. She acknowledges and is ashamed that she enjoys their coupling – which provokes an interesting discussion of ‘mental rape.’ Their bodies are willing, but their minds are not. They enjoy it, but they don’t want to. They want each other, but they wish they didn’t. What exactly does that make this? Another Johanna Lindsey novel explores this – in Secret Fire main character Dmitri slips Katherine and aphrodisiac. She begs him to take her, and he happily does. After this, he kidnaps her, and when she keeps denying to sleep with him again, he wants again gives her the aphrodisiac, knowing she won’t be able to say no. This is quite literally drug rape – but she falls in love with him, and seems to understand that he just desired her too much. This is such a bad, weird and plain wrong attitude to have about being drugged for sex. It’s just wrong. Seriously.

Whether, as in the above case, the author tries to blur the lines of rape slightly, or even romanticise it, it is, in my opinion, not best suited in romance novels. Although the success of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series shows that clearly there are people who enjoy reading about rape, I do not believe it should be covered in a Romantic genre between the protagonists – as no matter what the circumstances, there is nothing romantic about rape. There are books out there for people who enjoy reading about that sort of thing – I do not appreciate it invading my light and fluffy entertainment.

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