Dueling Review, Let's Talk Tropes

Trope Duel: Two Views on Second Chance Romance

We haven’t done any buddy reads in a while, so for this installment of Dueling Reviews, Holly and Erin share their thoughts on Second Chance Romances. Holly thinks they’re great. Erin thinks they’re nothing but nonsense. Moderated by Ingrid.

Ingrid: Let’s start this Trope Duel with a definition of the “Second Chance at Love”:

This romance trope can play out in a number of ways. Perhaps a couple breaks up only to reunite decades later. Maybe they have been deeply hurt in the past, and have spent years avoiding any kind of romantic relationship. Now they will meet and learn to give love another chance. This is a hopeful trope that readers enjoy because it enforces the theme that “it’s never too late.”


Erin: Okay, so now we all have the definition … of malarky. The problem with Second Chance Romance (henceforth SCR) is that the characters have fantastically wasted huge amounts of time and then they’re coming back to a relationship that didn’t work in the first place and somehow magically whatever’s wrong is not a problem anymore, which is ridiculous because things and people don’t really change. 

Continue reading “Trope Duel: Two Views on Second Chance Romance”
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Trope Rant: Deception and the Heroine’s Meltdown

Here’s the situation: 

I was reading a book one evening (as I do), and the primary trope involved a dishonest beginnings scenario in which the hero was perpetrating the lie and the heroine was deceived. Shocking, I know. I knew this going in, but I always hope for the best when reading. 

Anyway, I was about 60% of the way through this book when everything started hitting the fan (per usual), and I naturally turned to my partners in crime to ask: 

Can you think of a deception plot (false identity or some other intentional secret, not just protagonists being dumb) in which the MAN was the one deceived, subsequently lost his shit, and refused to communicate? And of course, he also assumed that because one thing was a lie, EVERYTHING was a lie? Or is that just a heroine problem?

Because I can’t think of one hero like that.

I feel this trope goes a little something like:

  1. Hero assumes false identity for Noble(ish) Reasons, 
  2. Hero meets heroine, 
  3. Hero thinks maybe this deception was actually NOT the best idea, 
  4. Heroine finds out before hero can confess, 
  6. Heroine refuses to talk to hero because he’s a LYING LIAR,
  7. Then, about 100 pages later when they finally actually TALK, hero admits that his reasons were sound(ish), and he really wanted to confess, and 
  8. Heroine realizes that maybe she should have thought there could be literally one single other explanation to the story before losing her damn mind.

It’s like: “I actually don’t trust you at all! Wait. I was wrong? OMG WE’RE MFEO, SO LET’S GET MARRIED AND HAVE BABIES!”

Holly noted during our text chat that this was exactly the plot of How to Marry a Marquis, and I thought that MAYBE someone could have come up with a fresh take on this trope in the intervening 20+ years since that book was released. Like, maybe the heroine could be, I don’t know, rational and communicative? Especially if she’s supposed to be in love with the hero? Isn’t trust an essential component of that loving relationship? I don’t get it. Mad – sure. Hurt – sure. Rethinking things – very possibly. Quitting the relationship without even talking to the person you’re so in love with?

Alternatively, I would accept a hero who completely loses his shit and behaves with the maturity of a larva. But I’m thinking there’s a reason we don’t see that too much. 

The reason is: that behavior’s not cute.

What do you think of this trope? Love it? Hate it? Ruthlessly impartial toward it? Please let us know of any you can think of one in which the hero was the deceived party. I’d love to read it.

Let's Talk Tropes

Favorite Tropes: A Positive Post from some Smut Enthusiasts

Ingrid said we needed some positivity, because Holly and Erin were ranting all the time. At least in our text messages to each other. So we’ve decided to share our favorite tropes. What we’ve learned is that our favorite trope might not belong to our favorite book, but for us, these tropes are a pretty sure bet for a satisfying read. 

An opportunity to get to know us – as individuals at TSR – a little better. 

What’s Your Favorite Trope? Why?


Seducing My Spouse, full stop. Erin has talked about why this trope doesn’t work for her; the short version is that she either doesn’t buy that the problem in the marriage is actually fixable or she doesn’t buy that the problem was large enough to actually be a problem. I acknowledge Erin’s critique, but we’re just going to have to disagree here. What I love about Seducing My Spouse books is that the characters already know each other, at least on the surface. These are not stories about the initial courtship, but rather about people opening up to deeper intimacy. Courtship might be cute and butterfly inducing, but the love that you build with someone you’re already connected to feels like stability. Note: My love of this trope might stem solely from the fact that Eloisa James’ Desperate Duchesses series played a pivotal role in my development as a romance reader. 

No seriously. Go read Eloisa James’ This Duchess of Mine (but you really need to read the whole series to truly appreciate the awesomeness of Elijah and Jemma’s love story).


THIS IS SO DIFFICULT! Although what all of my favorites tend to share is a Friends to Lovers situation. Like Holly with her Seducing My Spouse nonsense (I grant you, EJ does great things with it), what attracts me to the friends to lovers trope is that there’s already a relationship and it is deepened and strengthened as the protagonists are thrust into a situation in which they can realize that they want to be more than friends. But it usually doesn’t include some absurd wrongdoing that already messed up the relationship, which makes it great. I struggle with quick burns that rely too heavily on the sexual chemistry to develop the relationship, and a friends to lovers trope can have a quick burn that’s believable because the relationship development happened off the page and what we get is a peek at the protagonists really digging in to their forever.

Try one on for size:  Lorraine Heath’s When the Duke Was Wicked


Major toughie, but there’s just no sizzle like Sparring Partners. It’s close to Enemies to Lovers but without the acid, so it’s just enough zip to cause some friction but not so much it’s a distraction. In other words, I love it when the chemistry is front and center. Sparring partners is also a diverse field, too–you can have a mild back-and-forth like a tiny verbal game of badminton, or you can have a high stakes game of barbed insults. No matter what, you know they’re going to make the dance to happily-ever-after an entertaining one. 

You’re going to like: An Heiress to Remember by Maya Rodale.

How about you? What’s your favorite trope?

Let's Talk Tropes, Rant

Contemporary Romance Chronicles: The Grand Gesture

Unpopular opinion: Grand gestures are bullshit. 

That’s right. You read me. 

I had no idea how much I hated them until I started reading a ton of contemporary romance. Perhaps the historical romance authors I was reading just don’t go for the grand gesture, but that doesn’t sound quite right. Most of the histrom authors I tend to read are prolific, with huge backlists, and backlists usually include some variety. There’s that Sarah MacLean novel in which the duke gets a divorce through an Act of Parliament for his grand gesture. That did make me rage, TBH. Or there was that Shana Galen book where the hero jumped into the Thames with only the clothes on his back to catch a ship to AMERICA even though he had time to plan for a journey. Ruined the book for me. What an idiot. But most grand gestures aren’t like that in histrom. They’re, like, declaring true love in a ballroom or something. Maybe it’s because of the social male-female power dynamics? Maybe because they’re historically removed and I’m less emotionally invested in people acting like idiots? Maybe it’s because these heroes are all emotionally constipated and just expressing feelings is a grand gesture? 

It will remain a mystery. 

Maybe the reason I get so hung up on the grand gesture in contemporary romance is because I expect modern adults to act with some semblance of modern sensibilities and emotional maturity. It’s a big ask, I know. I live in a fantasy world. 

Continue reading “Contemporary Romance Chronicles: The Grand Gesture”
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What’s the Deal with Christmas Specials?

The Smut Report has long recognized that Christmas romance is almost its own sub-genre. Perhaps a sub-sub-genre? When a number of holiday-centric ARCs started appearing on NetGalley back in August, we decided that we would do a Christmas/holiday promotion between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (In the event that you’re not from the U.S., that’s when Christmas festivities really get into full swing.)

As we were reading all of these Christmas-related books, we noticed a few trends, and we wondered…

What’s the deal with Christmas Specials? Why are they always warm and fuzzy? What is it about Christmas in particular? 

Continue reading “What’s the Deal with Christmas Specials?”