Dueling Review, Monster Mash Smashdown, Recommended Read

Monster Mash Smashdown: Books by C.M. Nascosta

Morning Glory Milking Farm

Heat Factor: Violet really wants that big bull dick (and meaty balls).

Character Chemistry: We’ve got some bossy daddy energy going on here.

Plot: Broke millennial takes pharmaceutical job “milking” (*wink*) minotaur bulls for the benefits and living wage then falls for a client.

Overall: Don’t be scared by the title or the premise. This book is *delightful*.


versus


Girls Weekend

Heat Factor: There’s a lot of sex (even kinky sex), but we wouldn’t call this book high heat because the plot banks the flames. 

Character Chemistry: There are a lot of moving parts here (pun intended) so it’s hard to generalize.

Plot: Three friends go to an orc nudist colony for some casual hookups, two find guys and catch feelings.

Overall: Even though it’s literally a girls weekend at an orgy town, this book is so much more than “SPRING BREAK! TAKE OFF YOUR TOP!!” It’s weird. In a good way. And it might not be a genre romance?

Continue reading “Monster Mash Smashdown: Books by C.M. Nascosta”
Dueling Review, Monster Mash Smashdown, Rant

Monster Mash Smashdown: Non-Humanoid Alien Week

I Married a Lizardman by Regine Abel (2021)

Heat Factor: Y’all remember when Khal Drogo needed to be taught how to do it face to face by Khaleesi and then their marriage did a 180?

Character Chemistry: “You may look weird, but I find you oddly attractive.”

Plot: Benevolent colonialism + how to start seeds + sexytimes

Overall: We have some THOUGHTS about the politics of this book.


versus


A Winged Embrace by S.J. Sanders (2021)

Heat Factor: “Let’s start this whole marriage thing slow.” *sees giant alien penis with alien penis accoutrements* “Just kidding, let’s bone against the wall.”

Character Chemistry: Fully 30% of the book is him embracing her with his wings.

Plot: Jewel thief agrees to be a mail order bride to get out of jail and ends up married to a gargoyle-alien cop. Freak outs and boning ensue. 

Overall: Fresh and fun, but you’ll never look at spaghetti the same way again.


Both of these books feature the same basic premise: a human woman agrees to be a mail-order bride to an alien, sight unseen. She is not entirely honest with her spouse about her background and/or motivations. Her apex predator partner is a giant cinnamon roll who wants nothing more than to please his new bride. And while both books end with love and alien babies, there are some glaring differences between how these books present the alien Other. Let’s dive in!

Continue reading “Monster Mash Smashdown: Non-Humanoid Alien Week”
Coming Soon..., Monster Mash Smashdown

October Preview: Monster Mash Smashdown

Well, it seems like Romancelandia is on a bit of a monster love bender, and we at The Smut Report want to join the fun. Is this our usual reading jam? Not really. Are we going to have fun with it? Absolutely. 

For the month of October, we’ve decided to read not one, not two, but eight books together. Can we do it? We shall see. Every Friday, we’ll post a group review discussing two books selected based on a theme. 

We proudly present: Monster Mash Smashdown!

Week One: Aliens of the non-humanoid variety

Week Two: C.M. Nascosta has written two books and we couldn’t decide, so we’re reading both

Week Three: Beauty and the Beast retellings with Beasts that stay beasts

Week Four: Tentacles

Are we ready for this?!

Continue reading “October Preview: Monster Mash Smashdown”
Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Bedding the Boss

Books with the Bedding the Boss trope:
The Blundering Billionaire by Chace Verity
Calhoun by Diana Palmer
Seducing the Billionaire by Allie Winters
Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata
Pink Slip by Katrina Jackson
Reviews coming this week!

Bottom line: Do you like the bedding the boss trope?

Holly: Don’t tell HR, but I kind of do. 

Erin: I used to really like it, but I think I read too many similarly toned billionaire boss romances last year and now I’m kind of “meh.” But I don’t not like it! I mean, the first book I ever finished writing has this trope.

Holly: And maybe someday, if I bug you enough, you’ll actually publish it! 

(Note to readers: I have to live my romance author dreams vicariously through Erin because the act of writing fiction does not actually bring me joy. Criticism on the other hand…)

Ingrid: I love it. It’s a real weakness.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as bedding the boss trope?

Holly: The protagonists have to work together, and one has to be in a position of power over the other. This frequently plays out in an executive/secretary dynamic, but I would argue that the Governess Trope in historical romance is a subcategory of bedding the boss romance. 

I would further argue that this trope generally comes with some element of explicit power play between the characters as well as a side-helping of angst.

Erin: All of that. In particular I think there needs to be a workplace setting, even if they’re working away from the office, otherwise the tension of the boss/employee power dynamic doesn’t really pull through. 

Oh, also it’s not just the governess trope in histrom. The nanny/parent dynamic in contemporary does this, too!

Ingrid: I agree. Power dynamics, paychecks, and pleasure. HELLO.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: It relies on a natural forced proximity that’s really easy to buy. Even if someone hasn’t had an office crush, a platonic work spouse isn’t uncommon because people tend to be social creatures. It also plays with a little taboo, which is scintillating. Sneaking around because we really shouldn’t, but we just can’t stop?! Pining because it’ll never happen and then it does?! Yum, yum, yum.

Holly: When done well, the tension is just delicious. I think I prefer historical romance because there is often a built-in societal pressure keeping the characters apart, and often, in contemporary romance, there isn’t really a reason for the characters not to be together, so the characters fabricate one. But office romances don’t have that problem! They are just chock full of real social reasons that characters can’t be together and I am all about it. 

Ingrid: I feel like all of the above is true. You’re stuck with this person and you’re dependent on your work for whatever reason…the stakes are high and so is the tension.

What do you find problematic about the trope? 

Holly: So here’s the thing. All of these secretaries are ingenues who learn so much about the *real world* from their hot older executive bosses, but in my experience, if you want shit done, you talk to the secretary. Secretaries are the ones that actually keep everything running smoothly. Probably more hot executives should learn about the *real world* from their middle-aged secretaries who manage everything with an iron fist. Where’s my romance about that dynamic?

NOTE: I don’t actually want to read that romance, not because I’m not into older-woman romance, or competent female characters, but these bad-ass women deserve better than the man babies they take care of at work all day. (See for example: Two Weeks Notice.) 

Erin: I used to be a manager at a law firm, so I get super hung up on some HR nightmare scenarios. I don’t know why people think lawsuits waiting to happen are sexy. Not all authors thumb their noses at the power dynamics issues central to this trope, but when they do, I start to sweat. 

Also, how often would an admin be like, “Oh, yes, my unreasonable and possibly abusive boss with no boundaries is very good looking so instead of rage quitting I will have sex with them”?

Ingrid: I’m going to throw down and say that this trope has perhaps the most potential to be both the best and worst in show. When it’s done well, it’s just delicious…but when it’s done poorly, it can really get your skin crawling.

Given that this trope frequently features one protagonist in a position of power over the other, do you think that books with this trope do a good job of discussing power dynamics?

Erin: This seems to go three ways. 

1. The power dynamic is largely ignored. In this case it might technically fall under the bedding the boss trope umbrella, but it isn’t true to the tension that the trope is meant to evoke. 

2. The power dynamic is part of what revs the protagonists’ up. I mean this in the context of those CEOs who get off on their assistants being extremely competent and also basically insubordinate. This method ignores real conversations about the power dynamic because it simply uses the dynamic as foreplay while the characters can’t be together.

3. The characters actually process the challenges of the power dynamics in play beyond simply an “HR would be so mad if they found out!” way and negotiate ways to be together that do not compromise their integrity. 

The books that fall in the #3 category are probably the most interesting and thoughtful, but I would argue that the majority of books in this trope fall more in the #2 category.

Holly: Books in category #2 are still really fun to read!

Ingrid: I’m not sure it’s that easy to simplify. Some do, and a lot don’t. I think we’re going to have to watch the genre for a while too, because as a society we have reached this new level of awareness and clarity where I think we can really start to pinpoint where these dynamics aren’t fun to read. I think the genre will come up with sexy ways to rise to the occasion.

Holly: Ingrid makes a good point—I too am curious to see how this trope morphs as the labor force continues to change and evolve. 

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 take it back, I freaking LOVE this trope. I started going through my read books list to find one for this question and I found so many that delighted and entertained me.

So the most recent read that just totally made me have all the little feels was Thorned Heart by Eden Finley. Band manager has been secretly in love with lead guitarist for two years. Novella. Totally worked for me.

BUT while I have plenty of books tagged as “Bedding the Boss” on my list, I would argue that the ones that really work the best with this trope include the prospect of bedding the boss being a point of conflict or secrecy in the romance. Bypassing that makes the trope fall a bit flat. So if you’re looking for that bossy tension, Karina Halle nailed it in A Nordic King. If that’s not the driving desire for you, then I can’t recommend Nalini Singh enough, and I’ll suggest Cherish Hard because Sailor and Isa 4ever! 

See me not choosing one book again? Sorry Holly and Ingrid. 

Ingrid: All I can say is By a Thread by Lucy Score. This book is like the winner of the whole dang trope. 

Holly: If you want an excellent histrom example, Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt is excellent. This one is definitely a case of power dynamic #2, where Val, the Sinful Duke, is absolutely revved up by his hyper competent and also insubordinate housekeeper. He’s also a toxic boss, but this book is so fun to read. 

If you’re looking for a bedding the boss romance where the characters thoughtfully navigate the power dynamic inherent in their relationship, Swing Batter Swing by Zaida Polanco is very sexy and very deliberate in how it interrogates power imbalances. 


Books we mentioned in this discussion






Love workplace romances? Absolutely despise them? Have a favorite you think we should read? Let us know in the comments!

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Morality Chain

Morality Chain books we’ll be reviewing this week

Bottom line: Do you like the morality chain trope?

Erin: PUT IT IN MY VEINS

Ingrid: I have found that I really did like a lot of books that follow this trope, yes.

Holly: We are having this whole week focusing on morality chain romances because every time Erin is like, “REC ME SOME MORALITY CHAIN!” I’m like “What’s that again? Remind me.” I’ll get back to you after I do my research reading. 

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as morality chain trope?

Erin: Okay, so because these are my jam, I will go first. The basic definition is that protagonist one is the reason that protagonist two is good. It might be like the most extreme version of grumpy/sunshine you can imagine, but I typically think of it more like one is ruthlessly pragmatic and jaded while the other refuses to bend any principles, even when it might be, like, life-saving to do so. 

In a lot of speculative romance (read: sci-fi and fantasy) it’s often waaaaaaay obvious, with a dystopian world and a protagonist who is essentially an emotionless husk, and then the other protagonist who is sensitive and nurturing. Typically these even go so far as to require no emotional change in the amoral character except that the amoral protagonist will not take certain actions because they know it would upset the love interest (please see: Kaleb Krychek). But if we step away from the very clear-cut characterization that we often get in those stories, there’s still room for this trope in other sub-genres. In that case, the trope might not be quite so glaringly obvious, but the basics are the same: ruthless protagonist refuses to see the humanity in themselves or the world around them while the love interest forces the issue. 

I do not consider a book to be morality chain when the amoral protagonist isn’t actually amoral but instead is simply really grumpy or selfish but has a good heart deep down. If the good heart is readily apparent to the reader at the outset, the trope is not morality chain. Also, protagonists who are just jerks (please see: alpha-holes) also do not usually count for morality chain because they usually…stay jerks. 

Ingrid: Yes, so what Erin said. It’s like a darkness and light situation.

Holly: A small addendum: there might be some gender essentialism going on with this trope. The amoral character is almost always male, and the empathetic / humanizing character is almost always female. 

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: If I really dig deep and consider this, the draw for me probably stems from the fact that the amoral protagonist doesn’t actually have to change as such. They simply change their behavior because they have learned that their actions have more impact than just the bottom line. Nalini Singh has some great morality chain stories in which the amoral protagonists don’t change their personalities or understanding of the world much at all, but learn to check themselves. (I already mentioned Kaleb Krychek, who’s in Heart of Obsidian, but also there’s Raphael in Angel’s Blood and Zaira in Shards of Hope.) But also sometimes it’s a charming growth opportunity for the emotionless husk. I’m an equal opportunity morality chain reader. 

Ingrid: I mean, let’s be real here—this is essentially the foil to “you can’t change him!” Right? And we all want to be the exception, so it’s a very satisfying vicarious situation.

Holly: Sometimes the villain is sexier than the hero. Just sayin’. 

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: I mean. I guess it makes assholes sexy. Like, “Ooo, look! The partner had the magic something that finally made that person not terrible! #RelationshipGoals!” Which in real life is not a great mentality, but I do enjoy it in my fiction. 

Ingrid: Well, being the person who is responsible for pulling someone else up out of darkness seems like a pretty dangerous job, and a relationship that’s built on one person being the moral foundation is…likely imbalanced and unhealthy. To say the least. But that doesn’t mean it’s not some good, good reading.

Holly: What Ingrid said. Taming the monster might be fun and sexy, but being someone’s moral compass for years and years and years? Let’s not think about what happens after the story ends. 

Erin: (I usually think of it in terms of the Kaleb Krycheck/Sahara dynamic where at the end of the day she’s like, “You’re so cute, you think you’re bad. I’m not going to play that game because it’s a crock,” which is slightly less bad than “I will keep the darkness at bay for you.” Slightly.)

Let’s talk about this gender essentialism.

Holly: So, Erin sent me a list of morality chain books because I like it when other people do my research for me, and the only one on the list with a female “dark” character was Shards of Hope, which is book eleventy-million in the Psy-Changeling series, so I haven’t read it. So it seems like pretty much all of the people in need of moral guidance are the male main characters. 

And of course, there are lots of tropes that apply to members of one gender more frequently than another, but let’s unpack this a little bit. What it really boils down to are these are stories about women doing outsized levels of emotional labor because the men in their lives are *incapable* of doing so (and in the paranormal romances, they are *genetically* incapable of doing so). 

Erin: This seems to tie in to the question of “what are we reading for?” because y’all make a good point above that in real life the prospect of being a moral anchor for another person is not a healthy relationship dynamic and likely would be exhausting. 

Anyway, Holly sent me this absolutely hilarious review of Shards of Hope, and TL;DR the reviewer hated Zaira. I went back and checked to see if the same reviewer had rated Heart of Obsidian, and – Hello! – she loved Kaleb. Both books are by Nalini Singh, who has a really consistent writing style, both are morality chain with Psy protagonists who have no moral anchor except their one emotional connection. It’s been a while since I read them, but I think the only big differences from a characterization standpoint are that Kaleb is more broody/angsty and a man, while Zaira is angry/angsty and a woman. (And Kaleb did get built up for 10 books first, which does matter, but let’s just say for the sake of argument…) 

Having a woman protagonist as the amoral character in this trope seems to run into the “unlikeable heroine” problem, and if readers are trying to tap into a pleasure center with a story about a woman who can tame a man, it makes sense that the opposite dynamic wouldn’t be quite as popular or as saleable. Personally, I enjoyed Zaira’s characterization, and I’d like to see more stories that play with this trope (like some queer rep would be fun, yes?), but I also wonder if the writers who would play with it also maybe don’t care for the trope because it involves the emotional and power dynamics issues discussed above.

Ingrid: I agree with Erin, in that I feel like from a societal standpoint we tend to accommodate or even celebrate masculine characters lacking a moral anchor but when it’s a feminine one they become more unlikeable. Which, is like the literary equivalent of “you should smile more” and we should cut that crap right on out of here.

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: Ugh this one book thing again. A lot of morality chain books are part of a series (I cannot wait to read Lothaire, but I am being very good and I have to read nine other books first!), which I think makes it challenging to simply throw one out there. For a gentle classic, I’d suggest Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. Evie is initially so unassuming but refuses to bend on what’s important to her, and St. Vincent is a selfish man-child who only cares about what’s important to him, and there’s a sex deal, and St. Vincent gets the shit kicked out of him by love (to borrow the immortal words of that little kid from Love, Actually)

If we’re cool with possibly committing to a series without committing to 12-20 books, I would totally recommend the Nevada Baylor trilogy from Ilona Andrews’s Hidden Legacy series. In the first book, Burn for Me, Nevada is not totally sure if Connor is, in fact, a sociopath. As the series continues, we get more three-dimensional views of Connor, but in the first book he is totally willing to use his magic however he can to get the most efficient desired outcome. This includes, at one point, dropping a building on a person. The world building is magnificent, and the action is *chef’s kiss.*

Holly: Movies are allowed now, so I’m going with Lady and the Tramp

Erin: I’ve opened a can of worms. 

Ingrid: Well, if we’re going to do that look no further than Dexter. Romance wise…

Holly: No, but seriously, Lady and the Tramp is just a stepping stone for the story that the right woman can tame the bad boy—and that he won’t necessarily stop being bad (so he’s still sexy), but will control his urges to chase chickens or flirt with the other lady dogs because they hurt his partner. 

Addendum: Now that I’ve done my research reading, I also would like to recommend Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt because Valentine Napier is so delightfully villainous and has literally no concept of absolute morality. (I’ll squee some more about this one in a review later this week.) 


Books we mention in our discussion:




Have a favorite morality chain book? Know of any morality chain books featuring queer couples or female main characters in need of redemption? Want to talk about how villains are sexy? Leave us a note in the comments!