Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Austen Retellings

Bottom line: Do you like Austen retellings?

Holly: For some mysterious reason, I became the go-to person for Austen retellings here at TSR, so I’ve read a fair number. (This is ironic to me because Erin and Ingrid introduced me to the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, which was my very first Austen experience.) When they’re good, they’re really fun…but oh boy, are there some bad ones out there. So this one really hinges on the execution.

Erin: I tend to prefer my Austen retellings in A/V format. I think I might have been most delighted to find those Pemberley Digital serialized versions of Emma and P&P on YouTube back in the day. In books, I definitely tend to enjoy the Austen retellings more if they’re not completely invested in the original because a lot of aspects of the period don’t translate well or simply take up space in retellings.

Ingrid: I’m warming up to them. To be honest, I have historically had a bit of a snooty attitude about them? I guess in my head I thought, hey, the original was just fine and messing with it isn’t necessary…but just because it isn’t necessary doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun. (This is what I’m discovering.)

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as an Austen retelling? What makes for a really successful retelling of Austen’s stories?

Holly: So first, the story has to follow the basic beats of the original. It helps if some of the names are similar, so the reader can easily orient herself. (Note: I personally do not count postscript stories—you know, the continued love of Lizzie and Darcy after the wedding, such as in Death Comes to Pemberley—as strict retellings.)

However, there’s a fine line here. The story should be close enough to be recognizable, but not so close as to be a complete retread, only in a different time period or with dragons or whatever. The worst one I’ve read (which I DNFed and didn’t review) lifted whole passages of dialogue from the original, even though we were in the 1950s American South instead of 1800s England, which just didn’t work for me. 

What I think makes for a really successful Austen retelling is a deep understanding of the source material, and then a willingness to throw it away a bit, so we can really get in to these new characters and believe their path to true love is inevitable because of who they are, and not because of who they are based on. 

Erin: I’d say Holly summed it up nicely. (That’s why she’s the Austen retellings person, obvi.)

Ingrid: Holly shoots, Holly scores.

Why do you think Austen retellings are so popular (both as genre romance as literary fiction)?

Erin: Austen is literary women’s fiction romance, right? So the source material is smart and hopeful and not by men. It feels like it belongs to Romancelandia more than the sources of other retellings. Plus she created some great tension in the originals that doesn’t need to be totally reconsidered because the foibles of people are universal. (I’d say let’s just ignore the social commentary aspect of her writing (which is probably more relevant than the romance), but I don’t think we need to because there’s plenty of romance that also engages in social commentary.)

Holly: Speaking to the romance side of things, her books draw on some hugely popular ideas that have become central tropes in genre romance. Enemies to lovers? Check. Friends to lovers? Check. Second chance romance? Check. Uh…I can’t tell you if there’s a trope in Mansfield Park, so let’s stop while I’m ahead. 

Ingrid: I would also suggest that almost everyone I know stumbled across Jane Austen at about the same age or phase of maturity…so there’s this really kind of visceral Austen response people have when they connect with her at just the right time in their lives. I feel like there’s a thread of connection Austen fans share that is really kind of unique.

What do you think is fun about Austen retellings?

Erin: She’s using some really great tropes and characterizations, and those can be tinkered with and played on in ways that are still delightful.

Holly: What Erin said. Plus! Part of the fun of reading a retelling—any retelling—is recognizing the source material, and therefore knowing what to expect, but then still being surprised, and hopefully delighted, by the way the author plays with the story. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this thread by Bianca Hernandez-Knight—mostly her point that romance is a way to Austen for some readers. Because also, Austen is a way to romance. Genre romance is in conversation with Austen, and reading them together can open the door to different ways of thinking about love and society and how books can reflect these ideas. 

Ingrid: Austen has just layers upon layers of juicy characters, I absolutely agree. Each supporting character is just BURSTING with potential and backstory, and Austen manages to really pull these characters along for their own just desserts as well, so it’s ripe with possibilities for retellings.

What do you find problematic about Austen retellings?

Holly: Some of the tensions in the originals don’t translate well to contemporary settings—so when authors try to shoehorn a desperate “I must marry off my daughters or face penury” plot into a modern setting, I generally find it a little bit cringeworthy. 

Erin: You know I love me a Darcy, but honestly there might be too many Pride and Prejudice retellings. Collins and Wickham get shoehorned in whether they’re warranted or not, and it’s just boring. 

I think a lot of Austen retellings also want to play with the storytelling but don’t make the effort to interrogate social issues like Austen was doing. 

Ingrid: Any time you take something that just works really well as it is and you try to morph it into something fresh you’re going to be taking a big risk. So there’s that, and there’s also missing all those subtleties that are in the originals. Darcy is iconic because he’s Darcy–which means he’s one way on the surface and then through the cracks of his shell the light kind of comes streaming in until he’s just radiantly dreamy. You can’t just take him and repackage him, you have to really see it and let it unfold. So I think it’s probably really easy to love Austen’s characters but it’s very difficult to take the time to unfold them the way they deserve to be unfolded.

Do you have a favorite Austen story you like to see retold?

Erin: My favorite Austen is Persuasion, which is weird because I don’t love second chance romance, but I think it’s the most romantic of her books. But I’ve never read a Persuasion retelling. So I guess in practice, with my limited options, I’ll have to choose Emma. Knightly is totally my speed.

Holly: Emma is my favorite Austen because it’s so stinking hilarious and I love me a difficult heroine. But I’ve never read an Emma retelling. Does that mean I should pick Persuasion as my favorite, for symmetry? My real answer is: please send me all the recs for Emma retellings, thanks. 

Ingrid: Emma. Second choice would actually be Pride and Prejudice, but only if it’s done RIGHT.

What’s one Austen retelling you loved? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles repackaging the source material in a new and exciting way?

Erin: Holly picked a movie for one of our prior LTT discussions, so that opened the gates and I’m going to pick Clueless. It’s so 90s and really, really ridiculous, but aww. And you can watch it and realize that yes, it is true that Paul Rudd does not appear to age at all. 

Slash also after reading Wulfric Bedwin for 5 books, Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh totally hit the spot.

Holly: Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. Dev just absolutely nails the balance between telling a recognizable story and making it her own. 

Ingrid: What is the matter with you guys?? You’re completely ignoring the classic, Bridget Jones’s Diary. It is both a stellar book and a phenomenal movie and it has Colin Firth in it. Colin FIRTH. And he COOKS and he SMIRKS. And if you recall, he likes her just the way she is after throwing Hugh Grant across the street. We clearly need to discuss this further.

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Marriage In Trouble

“Why can’t they just freaking talk to each other?! They’re married FFS!”

Is my typical struggle with the Marriage In Trouble trope. 

While this trope seems to be really popular for (particularly married) women my age or a bit older, I personally am on record discussing how second chance romance is not my jam, and I would argue that Marriage In Trouble is a subsection of the second chance trope. Mixed in with a little seducing my spouse, perhaps? It doesn’t really matter. The point is, as with any other second chance romance, I struggle with the Marriage In Trouble because I struggle with the basic problem. Which is to say, I either think the protagonists are having the most absurd fight ever or that they shouldn’t be together at all and what are they even doing?

Isn’t the person* you marry supposed to be the person that you can talk to?

But I keep trying to understand feelings (it’s not an easy thing, so props to those of you who are good at it), and after reading a few marriage in trouble books recently, I realized that, even though one might already have made oneself really vulnerable to and opened up to one’s spouse during the initial courtship period, there are still things that might arise that are just really hard to talk about.** 

Because what if this person that you really really trust not to let you down…lets you down?

Or, I guess conversely, what if you don’t want to raise an issue because you don’t want to admit you’re struggling and let your partner down?

The idea that people can be messy for their whole lives and make some mistakes and still have love and support is a good thing to think about. We can talk plenty about how marriage is long and has ups and downs, but so much of genre romance is centered on the romantic ideal of finding the perfect partner and riding off into the romantic sunset of a happily ever after filled with the life we’ve always dreamed of (plus orgasms) that we often brush off the continuing emotional work that goes into maintaining a relationship. 

So, um. I guess I’m sorry I ever doubted those writers of the Marriage In Trouble. You do good work. Carry on. 


*I’m using singular for clarity and because most polyamorous romances I’ve read don’t get to the point of marriage, but really the argument would be the same for all spouses/life-partners in any kind of relationship.

**I’ll be honest, I was specifically thinking about asking a partner to get some kind of kinky, but I guess there can be other pressure points, too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Archetypes: 40+ Protagonists

Bottom line: Do you like reading 40ish protagonists?

Erin: I’ll admit that I used to feel like there was an emotional weight with 40ish protagonists because I felt like there was a lot of lost time that bummed me out, even if the story was happy. But now that I 1. Am approaching 40 myself and 2. Am more inclined to meet characters where they are without adding my own opinions, I find that I really enjoy older protagonists. 

Holly: When I read them, I find myself really enjoying them, but I don’t actively look for them. Maybe I should, though, because I find myself increasingly irritated by 22 year olds (in romance novels). 

Ingrid: I absolutely love it. I had no idea I was getting a little tired of reading about romance like it only happened to firm-bodied twenty somethings until I read one and I have adored them ever since.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as having 40ish protagonists?

Erin: I usually count books that include late 30s and 40s. Maybe early 50s, though I haven’t read many of those. For me that means 38 and 39 would be included, and 37 would be pushing it, but I might include it if one of the two were slightly older or if the story itself seems geared to an older experience. 

Holly: I think of this category as “middle aged.” Like, the characters have done some living, but are still looking forward to years of their lives. 40 is mainly a convenient cut-off. 

Ingrid: I agree with Erin and Holly here. 

What do you think is fun about these characters?

Erin: I like that they have a wide array of backgrounds because they’ve got a lot of life under their belts, and then they still get to have this totally awesome romance. 

Holly: I’m going to go with: there’s a smaller likelihood that they’re going to be all up in their feelings. See above regarding my irritation with 22 year olds (in romance novels). 

Ingrid: What I kind of adore is that these characters already resolved a lot of the questions we seek answers to in our twenties? So there’s a sense of either rebuilding or starting over or braving something previously untested. I’ve read some really fantastically bold 40+ stories.

What do you find problematic about these characters?

Erin: Nothing really, though I still get sad for protagonists who wanted kids but never had them and find they can’t have them (though that taps into my irritation at characterizations that don’t take a wide view of how people become parents, but that’s a different conversation). Or even just wanted a different life but had to adjust to the life they ended up having. So I guess there might be more complicated feelings associated with these than with a first love for a 20-something?

Holly: So, I’ve never read a romance where the characters were in their 40s and their age was treated in a problematic way—probably because people who write older characters in romance see them as people? The problematic side for me is more in the books where, given the heroine’s background and life experiences and baggage, she SHOULD be 40, but she’s 29 because god forbid our heroine is a decrepit old hag. 

Ingrid: I don’t love it when 40+ characters are portrayed as clutching their baggage and dodging happiness for the sake of their comfort. Or when 40+ women are lightly described as appearing so much younger and firmer than their peers. 

Have your feelings about reading about 40ish protagonists changed as you’ve gotten older? 

Holly: I remember, very distinctly, reading a romance novel in high school where the heroine was “older.” Not actually 40, because it was a historical. She was a curvy redhead who hired a guy to take her virginity. Maybe for her 30th birthday present to herself? Typing up the synopsis now, I’m like “THAT HEROINE IS #GOALS!” but at the time I found her very off-putting. Old people having sexy rumpus? Gross! 

Erin: I briefly mentioned that I connect to these better now (and I agree with Holly that I’m at a point when really young protagonists are increasingly obnoxious). I definitely used to go into books with older protagonists with the mindset of “They missed all those years that they could have been having their grand romance! That Sucks!” And while I didn’t have quite the same memory as Holly did above, I’ll readily admit that the notion of older people having sexy sex did not compute for me. It does now! LOL. But now I’m loving the idea of finding a beautiful love as our lives change and we age. I want more!

Ingrid: I agree that I would not have found older sex appealing at a younger age. And I absolutely agree with Erin that I would have felt that finding love at an older age seemed a bit sad. I think that’s all probably pretty normal…40 seems ancient when you’re a relatively recent member of adulthood.

What’s one book you loved that features 40ish protagonists? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the characters?

Erin: Well I’ve read a ton of age gap romance in which one protagonist is 40ish, but that’s not really what we’re going with here, so that limits me a little bit. I guess I’ll choose Kristen Ashley’s Soaring. The heroine is rebuilding her life and trying to make amends after a really bitter divorce, the hero is trying to figure out life after a divorce that he sought because his wife refused to acknowledge or get help for her substance abuse. Both protagonists have kids who know each other from school, and let’s just say teen years are rough. So we’re getting a do-over for the protagonists, some conflicts they personally have to overcome, and then the challenges associated with these other interpersonal relationships in their lives that matter to them.

Holly: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite. Slow-burn epistolary romance that also features politics, a printing press, and bees. It’s wonderful. 

Ingrid: Leveling Up series by KF Breene. Her character is divorced and it was sad but she’s dealt with it and it’s really a non issue because she’s completely focused on being a badass and experiencing her life. And she does it in a 40 year old body. Bonus—it’s also hilarious.

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Archetypes: The Sex Worker

This week, we’ll be featuring books featuring sex worker protagonists, and are kicking things off with a discussion post about the portrayal of sex workers in romance more broadly.


Bottom line: Do you like the sex worker archetype?

Erin: I didn’t always like it back in the day when I was reading about aristocrats rescuing their poor, tarnished mistresses, though at the time I didn’t quite understand why. Now I enjoy reading this archetype with caveats. I like that I have found stories that explore this archetype without being buried in sex shaming, but I have found even the most sex-positive versions of these stories still tend not to embrace or explore some ideas that I’d like to see, specifically that it’s possible for people to be in a healthy relationship even with the sex work continuing.

Holly: I’ll be honest, I kinda like the fallen courtesan historical romances. The heroines may be sad and jaded, but they’re also more worldly and sexually experienced than the average historical romance heroine. 

I’m not saying that these stories are sex positive or don’t have problems, but when I was first reading romance 20 years ago, these heroines felt like a breath of fresh air, and I continue to have a fondness for them. As the Music Man says: “I hope, I pray, for Hester to earn just one more A.” 

Ingrid: I think for the most part they tend to be refreshing when, as Erin pointed out, they aren’t done as a savior/fallen woman thing. I especially like when the sex worker hasn’t had a ton of terrible experiences and needs a magical ding dong to fix things for her.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as the sex worker archetype?

Erin: At least one of the protagonists is engaged in sex work, so one who engages in prostitution (mistress/prostitute/escort) or works in the adult film industry (porn star) or is a stripper or theoretically is engaged in sex therapy or does webcam sex work or is a professional dominant or the like, but I haven’t read any books that include protagonists who do that. Prostitution/porn/stripper definitely seem to be the literary faves.

Holly: Note: that thing that happens in bodice rippers where the hero suspects that the virgin heroine is a prostitute and therefore rapes her DOES NOT COUNT. 

Ingrid: Agree with all of the above.

What do you think is fun about the archetype?

Erin: It explores ideas about sexuality and power dynamics, especially when it’s thoughtfully executed.

Holly: Having a sex worker protagonist sometimes takes the mystique out of sex, you know? Maybe that means that casual sex is on the table, or maybe that means that characters are really conscientious about developing ties that aren’t about being horny. I don’t know, I made that up. 

Ingrid: I think in the examples I’ve seen and really enjoyed, I like that it levels the playing field. So often it’s one person, usually a guy, who has a plethora of sexual experience, and (usually the) girl kind of unfurls due to his sexual ministrations. But in this case they’re both bringing a wealth of experience to the table and it’s…pretty fun.

What do you find problematic about the archetype?

Erin: You don’t have to reach very far back to read this archetype as rescued from poverty and misery by the love interest who is willing to overlook the sexual partners in the past. Even in the more sex positive narratives, the archetype seems still to be primarily centered in ideas of shame and very traditional views of monogamy. I suppose it makes sense for the protagonists to have experiences and/or conversations that force the non-sex worker to confront biases, but the fact that it’s almost impossible to find a story that includes the love interest being unconditionally and publicly supportive of the sex worker or for the sex worker to continue the sex work once the relationship is cemented bums me out because it still feels like it’s supporting a cultural narrative that being a sex worker and having a happy, loving relationship are mutually exclusive things.

Holly: Uh, what Erin said. 

Ingrid: I really can’t add to that.

Would you say that you see authors representing sex work more frequently in a positive or a negative light?

Erin: Overall I do not think that sex work is portrayed in a particularly positive light. There are some authors exploring this archetype in ways that challenge cultural ideas about sex work, but I would argue that the reason books like, for example, Stripped by Zoey Castile or The Roommate by Rosie Danan or The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang have been so notable in recent years is (in part) because they include a character with this culturally taboo job. And all of these books that arguably do show the sex worker in a positive light include an interlude in which the sex worker is publicly shamed, even if the sex work is not entirely outed in the interlude. It makes sense that these scenes occur, but the fact that they are used in, like, every book indicates to me that, as readers, we are still grappling with the idea that we could view sex work without attaching shame to the occupation.

Holly: I absolutely agree with Erin. Sex work is something that characters do out of necessity and that they desperately want to leave behind (either by running away from their past or by finding a way to stop doing sex work). One exception I can think of is Priest by Sierra Simone, where the heroine is working as a stripper to escape from her WASP background, and who explicitly gets off on stripping. But sex work is still portrayed as negative and shameful—the character does it specifically because of the stigma attached, because it separates her from her other life, and there’s no indication that she will keep stripping once she and Father Bell figure out their relationship. 

However, I think we do have to acknowledge that while there are certainly sex workers in real life who choose their work because it’s something they really want to do, there are also a lot of sex workers who do this work because of economic necessity, and I don’t think that romance novels should gloss over that completely. 

Ingrid: I completely agree with this. I think that the issue in real life is pretty complex and there are a lot of factors and considerations for us as people in a society to weigh and discuss, so it goes to show that what we see in literature might be the same. I do think that the “shame factor” is a real thing that can’t be ignored–just because we believe things should be a certain way doesn’t mean they ARE yet, and so I can understand why we’d have that factor represented. I feel like there’s some opportunity to examine it in a more fantasy-based environment, where the characters exist in a society that has approached sex work differently (and perhaps in a healthier way).

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

Erin: Though in some ways I would have liked to see some elements play out a little differently, The Roommate by Rosie Danan was overall very sex positive. Josh is an adult film star who is dealing with his own career problems and has to figure out how to move forward in a way that he’s still comfortable with what he’s doing, and the solution that he and Clara come up with doesn’t take them away from the adult film industry, but spins their project in a feel-good, sex positive way.

Holly: First of all, I don’t think a discussion of sex workers in romance can be complete without bringing up Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners books. Nora might be known as a bestselling erotica author, but she makes her real money as a professional dominatrix. Though her relationship with Søren is tumultuous, she absolutely continues her sex work throughout the series as she moves towards her HEA. 

In a slightly different vein, Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West features a sex educator who gives demonstrations on how to safely engage in kink. Leah loves her work and is privileged enough to maintain control of her boundaries—and rather than being shamed for what she does, it makes her a more desirable partner for Jordan, who wants to learn about dominance from someone experienced in teaching it. 

And finally, I want to give a shout out to Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace mysteries. These books take place in the pleasure quarter of the capital city in Tang dynasty China, so bonus points for a unique historical setting. What’s interesting here is because the courtesans cater to a high-class clientele, they are well-educated and desirable (and maybe even powerful). This is not to say that they will continue to work in the pleasure quarter post-HEA, because they won’t, but it was still fun to read about a time when sex work wasn’t so furtive. 

Ingrid: I’m so bad at remembering books–I’m thinking off the top of my head of Priest, which we all know wasn’t my jam in some ways but it touches on the heroine’s work as a stripper (which was something she did for multiple reasons). Lingus by Mariana Zapata was an interesting read–in that one we have the hero who is a porn star and working his way through school. While he struggles with that career path, other major characters are also porn stars and have really positive experiences. So it was a pretty interesting read!


PS: Here are the books we’ll be talking about in more detail this week.

Book covers:
The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin
The Master by Kresley Cole
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Stripped by Zoey Castile

Have a favorite romance featuring a sex worker? Let us know in the comments!

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: The One-Sided Courtship

Bottom line: Do you like the One-Sided Courtship trope?

Erin: There are times when it gets icky (like, take no for an answer, dude), but for the most part it is a trope I really do enjoy. 

Holly: I don’t love it. But I don’t hate it either. 

Ingrid: I don’t love it. I also feel like when it works it’s paired with a sub-trope and that’s why it works.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as a one-sided courtship trope?

Erin: I usually read this really broadly, so to me a one-sided courtship involves a protagonist pursuing a relationship because of feelings (no relationships-of-convenience allowed!) while the other(s) is/are more standoffish. My favorite instances tend to be the ones where the (hero) has one interaction with the (heroine), decides (she’s) the one, and is all in from the word “go.” Which isn’t necessarily insta-love…usually it’s more like insta-horny, and it takes a while for the love to be acknowledged. But I would also include here stories in which there is insta-love but one protagonist is standoffish while the other is more accepting of the feeling and is more willing to pursue it. 

Holly: I don’t even think it has to involve deep feelings on the part of the pursuer. Maybe the pursuer just wants to date the other person, and the other person has too much stuff going on right now, or thinks that the pursuer isn’t right (too young for me, too hot for me, too…much for me). 

I would also argue that Seducing My Spouse is closely related, or perhaps a sub-trope, of one-sided courtship, and that there is space in a marriage (of convenience or otherwise) for this dynamic to play out. 

Ingrid: I agree with Erin and Holly here…only I would argue that in order for it to not be icky it almost exclusively has to slide into a secondary trope.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: I am simply delighted by a protagonist coming to a realization that they’ve found exactly what they maybe weren’t even aware they were looking for and then cunningly setting about convincing the lover(s) that there’s no just fighting the feelings. Plus I suppose it taps into a fantasy of being desirable enough that someone is bound and determined to pursue oneself, and it’s always nice to be wanted…within reason.

Holly: It can lead to some great tension as the relationship dynamic changes from casual / friendship to romantic interest to love. I especially appreciate when the reluctant character is emotionally invested in the pursuer, but not ready or willing to date for whatever reason, and the slow and persistent courtship therefore becomes a way of learning to trust. 

Ingrid: I mean, deep down there’s something really validating when you see someone who just never gave up on “that person and only that person” find happiness.

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: As a fantasy idea for putting people together on page, I don’t think it’s particularly problematic. That said, it is pretty easy for this to slide into Nice Guy™ or bully wont-take-no-for-an-answer territory, which is both problematic and not attractive. 

Holly: “Please date me.”

“No thanks.”

“But I really like you.”

“No thanks.” 

“I’m pretty sure you like me too.”

“No thanks.”

“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 8.” 

Duuuuuuuude. Learn some boundaries. It’s not cute. 

Ingrid: I have nothing to add here. That’s the problem 100% of the time.

Are there specific sub-genres that you believe work best for this trope?

Erin: It certainly could be applied in any sub-genre, but there seems to be less space for accepting it – at least in the form of “doesn’t take no” action – in regular old contemporary romance, where we see more of a trend away from hints of domineering behavior. It seems to be more popular in books that feature darker material, like Biker, Mafia, or other criminal archetypes, though I’ve certainly read it in historical romance (as in Slightly Dangerous or The Double Wager by Mary Balogh or in Indigo by Beverly Jenkins) and also in paranormal (sci-fi or fantasy) romance in which fated mates is not a factor (I’m thinking along the lines of Connor Rogan’s behavior in Hidden Legacy’s Nevada Baylor trilogy). In short, I would argue that it does work anywhere but the ways it might be applied and/or received by an audience vary by sub-genre.

Holly: Erin’s response is interesting, because I primarily associate the one-sided courtship with paranormal fated mates books for some reason. Like, one person knows it’s a fated-mates situation (“Her blood smells sooooo delicious!”) and then pursues the object of his affections relentlessly until she gives in. 

I don’t know why I think that, given that, when I look back through my reading, I see that I have reviewed literally zero paranormal one-sided courtship books in the past three years. 

Ingrid: I would argue that in contemporary romance you might see this trope paired with a sudden shift in enemies to lovers or in friends to lovers. Also seducing my spouse. So although I would say that paranormal and historical are the heavy-hitters in this category, it certainly makes a showing in others.

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: Yeah, so, that’s not happening. One book? Please. (This is a terrible question. I always struggle to choose one book.) 

Off the top of my head, Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley is a good one. It begins with Tyra falling for Tack at first sight, but he doesn’t reciprocate and is a total jerk. Then Tack sees some of the personality he missed that first night, and he realizes that he’s all in while she’s no longer so sure about him. So there’s a lot of back and forth between them, but it’s also all on the table, not hidden, the whole courtship. It’s a messy one, and better suited to readers who are comfortable with messy characters and anti-hero archetypes. 

If you’d like better behaved protagonists, I’d suggest Love Hard by Nalini Singh (have I recced this book enough yet?) It doesn’t happen instantly for Jake, but once he realizes that Juliet is perfect for him, he’s totally zoned in on getting her to agree without any subterfuge or manipulation, which is more unusual for this trope (especially the older the pub date). It’s so gentle and so romantic. 

And, just for funsies, if you’d like to change things up and have the woman being the pursuer, then Marrying the Billionaire by Allie Winters was a great read. 

Holly: How about a histrom? I cannot recommend The Widow of Rose House enough. Sam thinks Alva is just great, but Alva’s now-dead husband was abusive, so she’s not too keen on the whole romance thing. So while Sam definitely pursues Alva, he’s also careful with her, and that balance is really nice to read. 

Ingrid: I’ve been reading a ton of KF Breene, and in her Demigod of San Francisco series I think she kind of skirts this trope because Kieran chases Lexi for her mad magical skills pretty aggressively and it’s obviously not totally a professional interest. But obviously because it IS presented as such it’s pretty funny and it shifts in such a satisfying way!


Do you love one-sided courtship books? Hate them? Wildly indifferent? Have a rec for one you loved? Let us know in the comments!