Doing this blog together may have exacerbated our smut-collecting tendencies. Case in point: last year Erin bought a whole box of 80s category romances. Obviously, we had to read (and discuss) these treasures together.
One of our goals for 2023 is therefore to do a couple of focused weeks on 80s category romance, each loosely organized around a theme. In February, we talked mustaches. This time around, it’s all about Stranger Danger.
(Full Disclosure: Our smut-collecting is even more out of control than it was last year, and this theme was inspired by some smut that Holly found in a neighborhood book box. Erin and Ingrid hit up the used book store.)
What romance are you reading? Based on the blurb, what’s the basic premise?
Erin: I’m reading Imperfect Stranger by Carrole Lerner, and the book seems to be about a woman trying to get a former sportsball guy to endorse her company’s new sportscar? Because, you know, playboy athletes are known for turning down free fast cars. It also sounds like he’s a terrible flirt and there’s gonna be a love triangle situation with his ex. I hope it gets really catty in a way we don’t tend to see anymore because it’s seriously toxic femininity.
Holly: I’m reading Shadowed Stranger by Carole Mortimer. My copy is a Harlequin Presents from 1982, though it was originally published by Mills and Boone. This story is about a young woman who falls in love with an older married man (who neglects to tell her that he’s married). However, since he’s “the only man she would ever love,” I guess she’s doomed to a life without love! HAHAHA, just kidding, probably the wife is evil and/or chaste and will die horribly about three quarters into the story.
Two things stand out to me: that this premise is so so so yikes (can we say predatory age gap, anyone?), and that this is the kind of content that I would not expect to see in a Harlequin Presents published now. Illicit-affair-with-an-older-man-turns-to-true-love romance seems firmly in the world of self-publishing these days. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here!)
Ingrid: I’m reading Sight of a Stranger by Sandra Field. It’s a Harlequin from 1981, so it’s older than me (and smells like it). In this one we’ve got, I presume, a blind woman named Shannon who falls in love with someone named Blaise who, we are assured, is a bad idea. There’s very little else to go on—I have a weird feeling someone’s going to restore her eyesight but I have zero evidence to justify that inkling, honestly.
What are you expecting to see in these 80s romances?
Erin: Given that I’m dealing with another workplace-related romance, I still think I’m going to see a ton of cringe workplace inequality and purity culture yikesness. I also think I’m not going to get a lot of depth from the hero based on what we’ve read before.
Holly: Honestly, I don’t even know what to expect from this book. I grabbed it because it was a shiny treasure just waiting there for me, without reading the blurb or anything. Like Erin, I am not expecting a lot of depth from the hero here.
Ingrid: I think it’s pretty obvious that the heroine is going to be kind of a brave ninny. I think it’s likely that her blindness is going to be treated very differently from how it would have been handled in a modern book. (I’m always really shocked by this, which is naive and embarrassing of me.) It’s hard to say because the blurb is so vague!
What kind of stranger content are you looking for?
Erin: TBH I’m not sure exactly how the stranger component of the title fits in based on the blurb. It seems like she should know who he is? Maybe, bare minimum, I’d like to have a strangers meet cute that gets really awkward when they meet again in a professional context. It would be better though if they could hold on to the stranger mistique for a solid chunk of the beginning of the story.
Holly: I’m also not sure how the stranger component fits into this book. He’s a stranger because he leaves out some key details when they’re dating? Maybe? Guess I’ll find out!
Note: I have another old “stranger” category romance, which is from the late 1990s, and in that one, the stranger component is very clear (it’s an amnesia plot). So maybe the titles were more fanciful back in the 80s, and became more literal as readers’ tastes grew more focused on specific tropes? That’s just a hypothesis.
Ingrid: I’m hoping that Blaise is, in fact, a stranger, and that we aren’t asked to view Shannon’s blindness as a handicap that, at its core, makes everyone a stranger because she simply can’t see them.
As a child of the 80s, how does your childhood “Stranger Danger” education prepare you for this read?
Holly: If I learned anything from the 80s, it’s that I should never ever ever talk to strangers. Maybe that’s why I’m so bad at small talk. Since the “hero” in my book frankly seems like a sleazeball, I feel like that early assessment was probably correct.
Erin: I am also deeply uncomfortable talking to strangers. I have to wonder how anyone just happens to meet anyone, because my default reaction to a stranger talking to me is mistrust and avoidance. That said, the workplace is an acceptable venue for meeting strangers, because the corporate entity kind of performs the introductions, right? So workplace strangers are slightly more vetted than randos on the street. I think we’re gonna be okay. Right? Nobody’s ever met anyone questionable at the office?
Ingrid: I have to say, I secretly seethe when Boomers snark about how Millennials don’t answer the phone. Like, we were raised to believe ALL men we weren’t already familiar with (and a good handful of the ones we WERE familiar with) were predators who couldn’t control themselves. Plus, how many movies in our youth were scary ones where the pizza guy was evil? So yeah, I feel more comfortable texting, using self-checkout, and doing order pickup instead of delivery. I have a feeling this book will really take that theme and make it titillating.
What do you think we’ll learn from doing this project together?
Erin: This time we’re all reading books from different imprints, so I’m curious to see if any of them feel particularly different than the type of category romance we’ve already read. (My husband once gave me a whole bunch of his mom’s (grandmom’s?) old categories, and I got rid of them in college, and now I wish I hadn’t, but as I recall, there weren’t significant differences among imprints? We’ll see.)
Holly: I’m also curious to see if there are differences between imprints. (Honestly, we would probably have to read WAY more of them to actually notice patterns.)
Ingrid: It’s hard to say, although we usually have an awful lot of fun snorting over these old school trends and what we as a society thought was “sexy” and “manly” and “womanly”. So I hope we get more of that!
And, finally, is there a stranger you wouldn’t mind meeting for Romance Novel Purposes?
Holly: Here’s the thing. Any time someone in media (books / film / television) is called “The Stranger,” you know that character is bad news, no matter how sexy they may be.
Here’s what I know about anyone who is only known as a “stranger” or a “mystery man” or something similar: they are alienated from both their true selves and society…
…and you probably actually already know them intimately.
Or they’re actually magic.
That’s a lot of words to say: if I meet someone who is called “The Stranger,” I am noping out of there right quick.
Erin: Wow. Okay. I was just gonna add a picture and be like, “yum!”
Oh, hello, silver fox with a tidy beard but a slightly edgy haircut and lotsa tats, and also with glasses so you look both smart and approachable (IVO aforementioned edginess)…
But sure. What Holly said.
Ingrid: I don’t even like talking to people I HAVE to talk to. I don’t want to meet more people. I WOULD, however, re-meet someone for the first time all over again, time-traveler style. Can I do that?
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