Announcement

Erin wrote a smut!

Dear Faithful Readers of the Smut Report:

We have some exciting news! Erin (aka Daphne Green) wrote her very own romance novel, now available for purchase as an ebook through Kindle Unlimited. 

Holly and Ingrid have both read it – and you know that if it got past two very tough reviewers, it’s pretty delightful!

For all the updates on Erin’s writing, follow her author account on Instagram and/or Twitter.

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: The Single Parent

Bottom line: Do you like the Single Parent Trope?

Erin: I don’t dislike it, and sometimes I even find myself drawn to blurbs because of it, but I also typically start yelling at the characters for being ridiculous about it, too.

Holly: Meh. Sometimes it’s sooo saccharine. Saccharine is not part of my brand.

Ingrid: I have liked some, but I will admit that it’s not usually my first choice.

What makes a Single Parent book a Single Parent book? What are its defining characteristics? 

Erin: The parent/child relationships need to be central and part of the conflict in the book. For example, technically Tack is a sort of single parent in Motorcycle Man, but he just has kids that Tyra needs to care about; their relationship together is not something keeping Tack and Tyra apart or pulling them together. Those kids are older teenagers, but I wouldn’t say the age of the children matters, either, because often you’ll see a single parent trope with a younger teen or tween who has an attitude problem, and the new partner comes in all Mary Poppins to save things, but you’ll also see plenty of single parents of very young children who need to work things out in different ways and have all the frazzle of children without much functional independence.

Holly: I don’t know that I agree with Erin. I think it’s enough if there is a kid who plays a significant role in the story. Not so much in terms of conflict or plot, but is the child a real character. Yes, sometimes single parent books really hinge on the three-way relationship between the parent-child-new partner, but there are also some single parent books out there where the parent-child relationship is important, but not central to the plot or the main conflict. 

Ingrid: I’d have to say that a strictly Single Parent book needs to have a fair amount of the tension stemming from one of the main characters figuring out how a new partner would fit in with the life they’ve built around their child. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be the sole focus of the book, though.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: Parents need a HEA, too! I think I’ve generally connected with this trope because when I was younger I knew I wanted to be a parent and now I am a parent, so it’s not about a lifestyle that’s foreign to me. Also most of these protagonists are not in their early 20s, which is nice. Also also, most of the time single parent stories value the existence of children, recognizing that they have a place in our culture/society.

Holly: I do like reading stories about people who are older. And sometimes the single parents are just killing it and finding a partner who loves them and loves their kid and that’s just the icing on the cake. 

Ingrid: Honestly, I feel so appreciative when I see romance novels involving people who have a little mess and a few extra years under their belts. In real life, it seems like women who have kids are completely written off as future marriage material, which is just such utter bullshit. Men with kids are virtually saints and should be snapped up immediately because of their adorable children and how BRAVE THEY ARE, but women should consider themselves lucky if someone is willing to take on their “baggage”. So when I read a single parent book and they nail it? I LOVE IT.

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: Lordy, what’s not? 

  • Many of them get into this absolutely terrible “but a child needs both parents!” space that makes me totally furious. Either because it’s frustratingly heteronormative or because the ex becomes part of the reason that the protagonists are kept apart (barf). 
  • Sometimes they get into a sort of “I need to sideline my own life and happiness because I need to take care of my child,” which, okay, but also that is a recipe for a potentially messed up codependent relationship that should not be put on a child. 
  • They tend to glorify parenthood, making it harder for parents IRL to accept that loving babies might not be instantaneous or that it’s okay to get frustrated and fed up and need a break after the 5th bowl of chili gets dumped on the floor after a long day. Another way this manifests is that a parent who chooses to leave, making the other parent a single parent in the first place, is typically villainized.
  • I don’t think that I’ve ever read a single parent book in which a child who is not in need of Mary Poppinsing acts like a normal child. Obviously the Mary Poppinsing children are seeking attention in not good ways, but like, I know my kids are not calm and demure little angels, but also there are a lot of kids like my kids, and sometimes they have epic meltdowns. I have never read a normal child meltdown because little Taylor had to get a new toothbrush or was told “no” when they were tired and hungry and didn’t want to hear it in a single parent book ever

To summarize: it’s really hard to balance this narrative. 

Holly: There are a few directions this trope can go that I don’t love. First, sometimes the kids are just too much. Like, author! Have you ever interacted with a child? Second, sometimes there’s this problematic undercurrent of “my child needs a mother / father” as if a hetero-romantic partnership is the only stable way to successfully raise a child. And third, there’s the Governess trope, which is kind of a sub-category – where the new partner teaches the parent how to love again. Now, I’m kind of a sucker for governess books (maybe it’s my love of The Sound of Music coming through), but if you look at them closely there are frequently all kinds of unaddressed issues with power and consent and people being utterly terrible parents and utterly terrible romantic partners. 

Ingrid: I mean, Erin and Holly have really unpacked this nicely, but my main beef is when someone swoops in and fixes the single parent’s problems because they’re just so strong and capable, when in reality if that single parent had some money and a full-night’s sleep they probably wouldn’t need anyone to rescue them at all. Single parents are tough as hell, man. Quit making them look so weak and fragile.

Do you think that you respond to this trope in a different way now that you’re a parent? 

Erin: I mean, I like the idea that there’s a hopeful romance space that I could imagine if I were to be in this position. But mostly now I see how romanticized the parent-child relationships are, which I couldn’t understand before children, and they frustrate me a good deal more. 

Holly: The idea that your life isn’t over just because your spouse died or you got divorced or you had a child out of wedlock is so so important – and sometimes it’s hard to remember when I’m in the weeds of hanging out with my (very young) kids and feel like all the fun in my life is in my past. 

Ingrid: I have a much harder time suspending my disbelief with these books because I worry about the kids. Like, I get that you fell in love in two weeks but this hunk should not be babysitting your kids by week three. And don’t be asking her young child for permission to marry her, kids don’t need that kind of responsibility. And why is the ex always such a terrible human? I don’t know, maybe a few sessions with a nice family therapist would be a wiser way to happiness than a new man with a magic schlong who knows how to order take out. (Although, obviously I can see how that might be a tough call. I LOVE take out.)

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Erin: I’ve read plenty, and enjoyed most of them (even though I probably sound like a curmudgeon above), but one that’s always stuck with me is To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn. It’s drama, drama, drama historical romance, but it’s also sort of a hybrid between a governess book and a regular single parent book. Phillip is widowed and lonely and has twins who act out constantly, so after a correspondence he asks Eloise to marry him because he needs a partner and his kids need a mother (slash someone who’s not paid to care about them who might up and leave). She runs away from her family to see if that’s something she wants to do, and helps everyone get back to good. So it has some of that governess book flair without the iffy power imbalance of the employer/employee love story. 

Holly: If we’re going straight on Single Parent, I have to say Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon. Sloan is a doctor, so she has this really intense job, but she also is a great parent with a loving relationship with her kids, and she’s really careful about the way she integrates Rafe into their lives. Also, it’s about a woman banging her hot male nanny, and that is a fantasy I can 100% get behind. 

But like I said, I also am such a sucker for Governess books, where the parent is not such a great parent (let’s be real, not such a great dad) and learns to connect to his kids by opening his heart. And I said saccharine wasn’t my brand! Ha! Anyways, The Governess Game by Tessa Dare is pretty fun. It’s got the standard Marry Poppins thing going on, but Dare writes great comedy, which balances things out a bit. 

Ingrid: Fall into Temptation by Lucy Score is really well done, I think. I loved that she set up the situation so they’re in a forced proximity type situation, which allows for the kids to interact with the hero a lot earlier on and in a relaxed way. She kind of sidesteps the whole landlord/tenant power dynamic situation, but they do discuss it. I loved that it really painted the heroine as a well-adjusted, balanced, powerful woman who makes the right decisions for herself and her kids and isn’t timid or afraid to love again. She doesn’t need saving and she’s going to build a life for her little family come hell or high water, and it’s what the hero loves about her. It was really amazing and funny!


Do you like the single parent trope? What’s your favorite romance featuring a single parent? Let us know in the comments!

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Cinderella Romance

Bottom line: Do you like Cinderella romances?

Erin: They pretty much always make me want to pull out all my hair.

Holly: I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve read that many Cinderella romances? BUT! I have read approximately 1000 different versions of the Cinderella story – I used to teach a seminar on fairy tales and we spent an entire week on Cinderella – so I have a lot of thoughts. The short version: I think the Cinderella story is fascinating in its malleability and what it can reveal about who retells it. She contains multitudes! In terms of romance, I think my biggest disappointment is when authors don’t do more with it, but rather just stick to the beats of Disney, because that is BO-RING. Where are my magic trees?

Ingrid: I do! Obviously some can be a little stressful, but I think they tend to have a lot of potential.

What defines a “Cinderella” romance for you? 

Erin: I would expect to see a poor protagonist living with an unwelcoming family who meets the other protagonist in some kind of misunderstanding/deception situation, after which the protagonists are separated and come back together when the truth is found out. Fairy godmothers, magic pumpkins, and talking mice optional.

Holly: **cracks knuckles** Ok guys, I’m going to nerd out now. At its heart, Cinderella is about crossing class boundaries. And this movement is a huge source of anxiety – who gets to move up, and who is in danger of moving down. So one could make the argument that any rags-to-riches or unequal match story is a Cinderella romance, but I think that for it to really be a true Cinderella retelling there has to be some back and forth across class lines. When Cinderella goes to the ball, she’s pretending to be wealthy (or, at least, mistaken for someone who is wealthy); the real magic happens when the prince finds out that she’s just a nobody, and recognizes her anyway as The One. This was a long-winded way of saying that I agree with Erin, except I think you can have a Cinderella story without the evil step-sisters. (Speaking in terms of literary devices, they are evil because they fail at doing what Cinderella does successfully.) She just has to be poor. 

Ingrid: I feel Holly on this one, but I also feel like a lot of Cinderella romance expands on each character’s value system–for example, obviously the Evil Step-family values status above all else. The Prince wants someone “real”. Cinderella wants someone to see her and choose her. So I guess I have found that the whole “your true values will be seen and rewarded accordingly” thing to be what defines a “Cinderella romance” for me. 

What do you find fun about Cinderella romances?

Erin: I like that Cinderella is finally able to get out of a bad situation. I would not say that I find them particularly “fun.”

Holly: I think the fantasy of dressing up and pretending to be someone else and escaping your life for just a little bit – and then escaping your life for real – is really powerful. 

Ingrid: It’s just a classic rooting for the underdog situation. You know she’s the real gem here, and it feels so satisfying to see her appreciated and rewarded for being a good human.

What do you find problematic about Cinderella romances?

Erin: I am almost always made fantastically anxious or uncomfortable by the unnecessary cruelty of Cinderella’s family, and I don’t like that Cinderella was put in the position to live this way. She also has never seemed to me to have much agency, as she’s very much subjected to a cruel family and rescued by Prince Charming. Things are always happening to her, she is not making things happen for her, which is not something I am good at tolerating in a protagonist. 

Holly: First, I disagree that Cinderella necessarily has to be passive – though that does seem to happen a lot. (Again, why is Disney our go-to metric when there is so much other Cinderella material to work with?) There is definitely a sense of, “only a man with money can fix my woes” instead of, I dunno, “I found a decent man and we’ll work it out together and have a modest life full of love and laughter.” But that’s not the trope, so if I have problems with fantasies about obscene wealth, then these are not the books for me. 

Ingrid: So, I don’t particularly love the “he’s the only one who sees her worth” vibe. In Ever After with Drew Barrymore, I found that they portrayed the Cinderella character as almost crackling with strength and wit and she certainly had people staunchly in her corner, so I don’t think that dynamic is a given in these stories.

Do Cinderella stories work better for you in a specific sub-genre or time period?

Erin: Maybe they work a little better in a historical context where women were more socially and economically vulnerable than men due to their legal standing. I can’t really think of any adult romance Cinderella stories off the top of my head, but I feel like I’d probably rage at a contemporary heroine who hasn’t worked to get herself out of a bad situation without the help of a Prince Charming. I think any other sub-genre or period would lead me to expect that the heroine should do more to rescue herself before she ever even meets the Prince.

Holly: Wanting to improve your lot in life and maybe being a bit sneaky about doing it transcends time and place. 

Ingrid: I feel like half the fun of the Cinderella story is flipping it around and trying it out in new ways. I don’t think any particular way works better because I think it’s pretty versatile!

What’s one book you loved that featured this trope? What’s so great about this book and how it handled that trope?

Erin: Eloisa James’s A Kiss at Midnight probably gets just far away enough from full-blown Cinderella that I enjoyed the story. Things don’t just happen to Kate, Kate makes things happen. And Gabriel has his own problems to wade through before he can finally start making the right choices. So there’s some good drama here instead of a lot of infuriating drama. 

Holly: Ok, I’m going to be bad, and pick a movie. Because Ever After is the most satisfying Cinderella retelling. 

Ingrid: I’m sorry, but I agree with Holly. Ever After made it almost impossible to focus in school for about 4 months after it came out. Plus he has that accent and the scowl and really it kind of overlaps into Grumpy/Sunshine, which everyone knows is the best trope.


Are you Team Erin, and find Cinderella stories incredibly stressful? Are you Team Ingrid, and love seeing people’s true values revealed and rewarded? Or are you Team Holly, and you’re just gonna be a nerd and spend an hour trolling through this database of different Cinderella folktale retellings? Let us know in the comments!

Listicle

Saturday Smutty Six: Seriously Exceptional Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon roll heroes are extremely popular, but so many cinnamon roll heroes are sweet and nice, but not the ooey gooey deliciousness of too good for this world that is the best cinnamon roll. They’re often also nice in a somewhat 2-dimensional way, without any of their own problems or baggage (or they’re AMAZING until the conflict arises, and they do something completely outrageous). 

These cinnamon rolls, on the other hand, have feelings and react to situations like real people, but holy moly do they take care of things, are willing to communicate and engage with their feelings and be an amazing partner. 

Thus, without further ado, we present you with this Saturday Smutty Six list of seriously exceptional cinnamon roll heroes:

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon

If anyone puts together a cinnamon roll list WITHOUT Rafe on it, you should probably back away, because that person is not to be trusted. Rafe doesn’t have a ton of baggage, though he is working through whether being a professional caretaker for the rest of his life is really for him when he accepts a job taking care of Sloan’s twins. Let’s start with the obvious: every parent deserves a nanny as good as Rafe in their life. He cooks. He enjoys spending time with kids. He does laundry. But also, when he finds himself attracted to Sloan, he goes with open and honest communication. And keeps up the open and honest communication when her ex starts the drama. In short: Rafe is the best. 

Salt+Stilettos by Janet Walden-West

Yum, yummy, yum, Will is a chef from American Samoa and is just…healthy, sexy, vulnerable, gooey, goodness. Brett is in PR and is helping pull off the launch of his new restaurant, but she’s also dealing with nearly debilitating PTSD. Will provides a safe, healthy, nurturing connection she can count on. One thing I loved about this book is that Will deals with things men in the real world deal with–he’s self-conscious about gaining weight, and doesn’t always feel like he’s top-dog (even though he’s incredibly talented and well-respected in his field). And the way this is written shows how sexy it is for a man to be strong, vulnerable, and REAL.

The Boyfriend Project by Farah Rochon

The big problem in this book is that Daniel is deceiving Samiah, and he’s deceiving her because he’s an undercover agent for the Treasury department. Even though he really knows he shouldn’t, he can’t help but keep seeing Samiah, who’s going through her own drama. His empathy and support are lovely, and he takes time to listen to her and understand her. Totally a book boyfriend.

Paradise Cove by Jenny Holiday 

Jake takes care of things. Your porch is broken? Jake will fix it. You need some dinner? Here’s Jake, with a pizza (ham and pineapple, aka the best toppings). He helps deliver a baby in the middle of the town square. Note that this strong-and-silent hero has some serious emotional baggage that keeps him from toppling into white knight territory. 

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Red is always a caregiver because his mother is diabetic, so when he really gets to know Chloe after thinking she’s nothing more than a frosty rich girl since they met, he immediately demonstrates that he understands she only has so many spoons, and he’s more than willing to share some of his to make their time together better. He’s just a genuinely nice man, even if his life is still sorting itself out.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller 

Sam is the sunshine to Ava’s grumpy, and he is just so thoughtful and charming and optimistic that you can’t help but love him, even if he can’t remember to tie his own shoes.

Wrap Up

September Wrap Up: Our Favorite Smut This Month

Is 2020 over yet? No? Well, at least we have smut to keep us going.

These were our favorites this month:

Holly’s Choice: Three Little Words by Jenny Holiday

The more she thinks about this book, the smarter she thinks it is. Plus, who doesn’t love a road trip? No one, that’s who!

Ingrid’s Choice: By a Thread by Lucy Score

Ingrid raved about this book so much that Erin had to read it too. When we convince each other, you know it’s good.

Erin’s Choice: Beauty Tempts the Beast by Lorraine Heath

Sometimes you just need a solid historical romance, and Heath is a great storyteller.


What else have we been up to?


October Preview

We’ve got some spooky reads (look at that levitating body!), some exciting new releases, and a hot ghost. Are you excited, because we are!