January 19th, 2020Posted by Nancy

My relationship with romance novels (or romance in novels) is complicated. Among my favourite books I count Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. My comfort viewing is the 1995 BBC production of the former. My SF and Fantasy reading really began with Andre Norton whose books often followed an arc of heroine and hero learning to trust and love each other through adversity. I wrote an essay on “bodice rippers” in high school. My cousins had a fine collection of Harlequin Romances at their cottage and I’m not ashamed to say I read quite a few of them. And, of course, my own novels have strong romantic elements.

But reading actual romance novels in the here and now? That happens only rarely. For some reason, romance novels that are marketed as such never seem to scratch the reader romantic itch in me the same way a fantasy novel with a romance in it will. The only reason I’ve ever been able to find for this is that, in a true romance novel, the balance of elements is off for me. I want a story with a romance, not a story about a romance.

My other odd and idiosyncratic pet peeves include: characters who fall in love/lust too fast and spend too much time thinking about the other person’s physical attributes, annoying domineering heroes that any one of my characters would push down an elevator shaft, long sex scenes* (honestly, I just skip them) and characters who talk too much during sex. Yes, I realize that I wrote one of those but I didn’t make you read what he said.* *

In an attempt to see if there were actually romance novels that might be my jam, I read the wonderful Beyond Heaving Bosoms by the fine minds behind the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website. I read the descriptions of their favourite books and noted down a few to try. So far, I’ve managed to read two from the list and liked them both (though, again, I skimmed the sex scenes).

For My Lady’s Heart, laura Kinsale. Why did I like this? The Middle-English-influenced language (piece of cake for a fantasy reader), the powerful and damaged heroine, the noble and definitely not annoying hero, the vivid descriptions of a memorable landscape, lots of political intrigue. Right up my alley.

Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie. Contemporary romance with a zaftig heroine, a genuinely nice hero, and an engaging supporting cast. Any book in which the heroine warns the hero she’ll likely get fat, because she comes from a long line of Norwegian peasant women who could carry cows gets my vote.

Given the size of the romance ecosystem, there’s bound to be something out there for me, so I’ll just keep exploring. In between the other 250 books on my “to be read” list, of course.

* My favorite sex scene is from C.J. Cherryh’s Serpent’s Reach. “Later, high in the upper decks and the luxury of the Kontrin’s staterooms, it came to what he thought it might.”

** Daen, from Cold Hillside.

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