Wrap Up

July 2022 Wrap Up

Is July over already? Time flies when you’re sweating and reading smut.

Our Favorite Reads…

Is it an accident that all our favorites were the books we read for Fake Relationship week? I THINK NOT!

Holly’s Choice: D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins

This book does a great job of balancing sadness with hope while keeping things light-hearted. It’s just a lovely read.

Erin’s Choice: Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh

Catnip. That is all.

Ingrid’s Choice: For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa

When there’s a pun THAT BAD in the TITLE, you know Ingrid is gonna love it.

More from the Blog…

Notes from Romancelandia…

This article by Steve Ammidown about The Romantic Spirit (a pre-internet romance catalogue) is fun (and fascinating if you’re a nerd).

Coming Soon…

Here are some of the books we’ll be reading in August

Plus we’re planning a whole week where we talk about blue collar protagonists in romance. It’s time to lay some pipe!

TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Vintage

July’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Vintage.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Erin Read: Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (2018)

Why was this book on your TBR?
I decided I should try K.J. Charles, and this was the first book I bought. Not, as it happened, the first I read.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

It’s a book that’s got some old school romance vibes. Just look at the cover!

What are your thoughts on the book?

I didn’t really know this going in, but after a few chapters I thought, “This really has a Georgette Heyer vibe.” And what do you know?! KJC has a little note on Goodreads that she went “full Heyer” on this book. So it’s extra vintage, I guess, but also bonus—it’s all that Heyer repartee (at least in the beginning) but without the racism or the antisemitism. And with on-page sexytimes! Woot! 

Here’s how it goes: Guy’s sister, Amanda, has secretly published a gothic novel in which their neighbor and his best friend are very clearly caricatured as the villains. Oh, and those naughty, villainous men just so happen to be in the neighborhood for their regular “Murder” houseparty. Thinking she’ll get more fodder for her next book by spying on Rookwood and his scandalous friends, Amanda rides off, only to break her leg in a riding accident, at which point she’s taken to Rookwood Hall, but too ill to do anything about it. Guy goes to take care of her and protect her from the horrible men, only to discover that they’re all really cool, open-minded men. Who also have sex with each other. (He wasn’t supposed to find out about that, whoops!) Of course, Rookwood is also surprised to find that he likes the uptight bumpkin, and both he and Guy find themselves catching feelings. But Guy is in no position to thumb his nose at society, and publicly befriending Rookwood would not only ruin him, but also his sister. 

I liked the whole of this book. I liked that Rookwood and his friends were comfortable enough with themselves (and financially independent enough) that they could live their best lives. I liked that Guy had to figure out how to live his best life after being too scared to step out of line. I liked that Rookwood and his friends are diverse – the Murder includes Black men, a Jewish man, and a trans man, and they’re also not all aristocrats or gentry (there were a lot of characters, and I read this fast, so I might be forgetting some, but the point is they’re way not all rich cis white guys from the privileged class). I liked that Amanda was independent. I liked that the Murder joked with each other in sometimes rude ways, but they also set that aside and took care of each other with love and gentleness when needed. I liked that Rookwood was hotheaded and Guy would turtle up, but they still managed to talk to each other and work through things together. I liked that it was a house party (you can get away with so much at a house party). I just really, really liked this book.

Buy Now: Amazon

Holly Read: Moonrise by Roberta Gayle (1996)

Why was this book on your TBR?

Like two years ago, I put together a list of historical romances featuring Black love that I wanted to read, and I came across this book, and desperately wanted to read it. Art dealer and pirate in 19th century Paris! Art shenanigans! A gorgeous clinch cover! Except it’s out of print. Lucky for me, Erin has a superpower and found a copy, which she sent me for my birthday.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Well, it’s a historical, and it’s more than 25 years old. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

Unfortunately, the execution did not live up to the promise of the premise. I think the main disconnect here stems from the blurb: Devlin is going to smuggle a legendary masterpiece to Spain, but then revolutionaires get involved. So I thought we were looking at some art heist shenanigans, where Pascale gets caught up in Devlin’s nonsense. But the “legendary masterpiece” is actually a painting by Pascale’s father, that he’s hidden from her. She wants it so that she can cement her father’s reputation as an artist by getting accepted in the Salon, and she is pissed that Devlin is in cahoots with her father to get it out of the country. (For the record, I am 100% team Pascale here; she manages her father’s career because he’s a man-child who would have let her starve while he focused on his art. Why the heck is he suddenly adult enough to not sell his “best painting,” if it would make life more financially stable for his family? Is he gonna start hustling? I thought not.)

On top of the letdown about the source of the “legendary masterpiece,” there’s a lot of surface-level art history going on. And I’m sorry, but I do not care about the Impressionist Movement. Oh no, Édouard Manet, you are worried about the reception of Olympia? Yes, that painting was controversial, but I really don’t care. There are a lot of scenes where Pascale is interacting with all these artists to try to get some information out of them about her father’s painting, which included extensive discussions about the nature of art and the role of the critic and I was bored. As far as I could tell, they didn’t serve the romance. 

Now, the race dynamics in this book were interesting. Gayle talks about the race of her protagonists a lot (she reminds the reader that Pascale has cocoa-colored skin three times in the first 90 pages)—and does a lot hedging, showing the reader that Pascale and Devlin are exceptional, so that the reader will accept that there might have been two Black people at a fancy ball in Paris in 1865. Also Devlin made his money running goods to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and I really don’t know how I feel about that (reminder: he is a Black man). I don’t know that the way Gayle dealt with the race of her characters was wrong, necessarily, but it was very striking, and very different from the way I expect that an author writing in 2022 would present a Black character in that same setting.

I am working on not reading books that are not bringing me joy, so I DNFed this one. Maybe I’ll return to it someday—it had some fascinating components that would be interesting to really dig into and analyze. But if I’m just reading for fun? Nah.

Buy Now: Amazon

Want to join us in tackling you TBR? Next month’s theme is Blue Collar.

The Great Smut Debate (with debate inked in cursive by a fountain pen)
The Great Smut Debate

The Great Smut Debate: Genre Crossovers

We’ve been discussing the strange space between genre romance and what is typically referred to as Women’s Fiction, but that’s not the only place where we see romance cross over into other genres. In fact, the romance genre is rather famous for having something for everyone. Thrillers? We got ‘em. Outer space? We’ve been there. Elves? Werewolves? Witches? Wizards? Vampires? Necromancers? You name it, there’s romance for it. Wanna take it back in time? We got historical romance, but let us also show you the steampunk, the gaslamp, and the timeslip. There’s monster romance that includes largely bipedal but non-human romantic protagonists. There is even, believe me, horror romance (not to be confused with dark romance, which is a whole other thing). 

Romance readers’ frustrations with those books that fade into the WF space tends to stem from the expectation of a dual* protagonist story arc that has strong romantic elements and an HEA or HFN ending, and the reality of the story not meeting the expectation. But that can happen in these other crossover spaces, too! And, depending on where those crossover books fall on their own gray area spectrums, they also may receive mixed responses from romance readers. 

Continue reading “The Great Smut Debate: Genre Crossovers”

Saturday Smutty Six: You say you’re bad at relationships, but you’re doing great in this fake one!

We’re rounding out fake relationship trope week with a super specific sub-category of the trope—you know the one, where at least one protagonist swears that they just can’t do real relationships because they’re so bad at them? Except then they’re really good at being in the fake one because they’re just themselves and it’s completely endearing and wonderful?

Anyway, this is a dynamic that’s pretty specific to contemporary romance, so here are six for your reading pleasure:

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Stella might begin her quest by asking Michael for sex lessons, but it only takes one encounter for them to decide to fake something more like relationship intimacy as a solution to Stella’s dating woes. Of course, intimacy is intimacy, and it’s not long before their relationship evolves into meeting the family and thoughtful gifts and crossing all the fake relationship lines.

Flirting with the Frenemy by Pippa Grant

Ellie’s best friend is getting married, and she ends up sharing a house with her brother’s best friend Wyatt, and his son. Ellie’s ex is also in the wedding, so she arranges for a friend to be her fake boyfriend–but when Wyatt finds out, he flips the script and insists HE is her real boyfriend. There are all kinds of reasons they apparently can’t be together but…none of them end up mattering. 

Best Fake Fiancé by Roxie Noir

Daniel hasn’t dated in years because he’s been focused on being a good single dad to his daughter while also running a brewery—and what he was doing before he found out he had a kid is not exactly what we would call “dating.” When Daniel panics at a custody hearing and tells the judge he’s engaged to his best friend, Charlie, he thinks it’ll be simply a matter of Charlie showing up at the next hearing and saying, “Yup, we’re getting married.” Too bad they live in a small town where the congratulations start flowing immediately because 1) the court clerk is a huge gossip and 2) everyone is already convinced that Daniel and Charlie have been secretly dating for years. 

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Dani’s carrying so much hurt from being dumped when she was young that it sabotages her relationships, so she’s decided not to waste her energy on something that’s not working for her and is being awesome at work instead. She’s so fixated on how a relationship won’t work for her that she doesn’t even realize she’s exactly the girlfriend Zaf has been dreaming of the whole time they’ve been fake dating.

Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert

Being in a relationship with a partner who’s deployed in a submarine for long stretches is hard. Too hard. So Derrick has decided to give up the misery of dating and be married to work…after he gets back at his cheating ex by having his best friend’s little brother give him the most epic fake welcome home kiss ever. Too bad the rest of the family is there to see it and is over the moon to adopt him into the family.

Irresponsible Puckboy by Eden Finley and Saxon James

Look, Dex is a himbo. He doesn’t realize that his best friend has been in love with him for years, and he doesn’t realize his relationship failed not because he’s dragging his feet about getting married but because he doesn’t actually like her much. But, being the problem solver that he is, Dex convinces Tripp to go to a chapel in Vegas and pretend to marry him so he can get over his wedding anxiety. It’ll be fake, he said. We won’t file the paperwork, he said. Boy, are these twits surprised when the team’s PR department calls demanding answers. Bonus points: This one’s a legit rom-com. Erin couldn’t stop laughing while describing its bonkersness and Holly told her to put it on this list.

As always, we’re always taking recommendations (even if our TBRs are threatening to fall on top of us), so let us know if there are any we just shouldn’t miss!

Dueling Review, Rant

Dueling Review: I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson (2022)

Holly’s Take

Heat Factor: The first kiss happened around halfway, and then I called it quits.

Character Chemistry: Textbook definition of a toxic relationship.

Plot: Hudson bribes Kian into doing a fake relationship with him by promising an introduction to a guy who can get Kian his dream job.

Overall: DNF at the halfway point.

Ingrid’s Take

Heat Factor: I mean, it was nice and steamy. 

Character Chemistry: I could see the chemistry but there were so many aspects that didn’t seem to get worked out, that I didn’t necessarily buy in all the way.

Plot: Kian agrees to pretend to be Hudson’s boyfriend again despite his better judgment so that Hudson can get Kian a job that is supposed to launch his journalism career.

Overall: I ended up with very mixed feelings about this one.

Erin’s Take

Heat Factor: They have very playful sex.

Character Chemistry: Horny, not healthy.

Plot: Hudson inexplicably dumped Kian three months ago, but now he’s back asking Kian to fake being his boyfriend again because he never got around to telling his parents they broke up.

Overall: This should have been a 300 page grovel and IT WAS NOT.

Continue reading “Dueling Review: I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson (2022)”