Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Road Trip Romances

This week, we’ll be featuring romances that are all about the road trip. To get us in the mood, we chatted briefly about the trope and our own experiences on the road.

A preview of the books we’ll be reviewing this week

Bottom line: Do you like the Road Trip Trope?

Erin: To be honest, I was kind of surprised when I realized it’s a trope that I need to categorize, so I guess I never paid much attention to it. 

Holly: I LOVE it. It’s my favorite type of forced proximity. 

Ingrid: I haven’t read too many road-trip books but then I did…and I really liked it.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: It’s a playful trope. An author can take any pair of characters, from enemies to strangers to old acquaintances and put them together for a journey in which they kind of need to figure out how to be together or have a terrible time. Plus, it’s a perfectly reasonable forced proximity situation, whatever the excuses were to get in the vehicle together in the first place, so there can be plenty of opportunities for misadventures and tension that don’t feel like the author is putting the characters together unnaturally.

Holly: So many things! Sometimes the set up for forced proximity stories feels like there’s too much emphasis on the “forced” – but not road trips. You have to get where you’re going, so why not travel together? Road trip stories work in basically any location or time period. Spending a lot of time in a car or carriage is a great excuse to have deep conversations with someone, so the characters developing a connection by sharing confidences is believable. And since you’re traveling, there are plenty of opportunities for shenanigans. Oh no, there’s ONLY ONE BED at the hotel! Oh no, we were just attacked by bandits! This trope is just so versatile. 

Ingrid: I think it sets the characters up for just exactly the right amount of drama. You’re stuck together and things are going to go wrong. And you’ll see things that take your breath away. And you’re also stuck in a box within hand distance of a person you’re attracted to. What’s not fun about that?

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: I don’t think it’s particularly problematic at all, but typically a road trip doesn’t last a very long time, so maybe it isn’t for people who don’t enjoy stories with a fast-paced romance that happens over only a few days. 

Holly: Nothing. There is nothing problematic about this trope. I mean, obviously, sometimes the execution works better, and sometimes a book featuring a road trip doesn’t work for me, but not because of the trope. Maybe if your worry about global warming extends into all areas of your fiction reading adventures, you’d be like, “Man, all that time they’re spending in the car is creating a lot of pollution.”

Ingrid: I guess the only thing I can think of is that it’s kind of unusual having a mobile setting? Secondary characters end up being more in the far periphery than in a book with a more fixed setting. But while that might create challenges for the author I’m not sure I’d call it problematic for the reader…

What’s the most epic road trip you’ve taken? Have your own road trip experiences influenced the way you read road trip romances?

Erin: Well I was going to say that my most epic road trip was my around the world trip, or at least going overland from Nairobi to Johannesburg all over southern Africa, but then my husband said that doesn’t count as a road trip, which bummed me out. In which case I guess it was even we were really not smart in our mid-20s and (twice!) drove all night to get to Titusville, Florida in order to watch a shuttle launch spur-of-the-moment. So for me road trips have often been times of quiet and reflection or dedicated times that I have been removed from any other kind of responsibility. Other than that round-the-world trip, my road trips have all been pretty uneventful and low-key, so sometimes I might roll my eyes when the protagonists hit road bumps that seem like stock problems. But also I’m the “That didn’t go as planned, I guess we’re having an adventure!” to my husband’s “Everything is falling apart, this is a disaster!” so I love finding that sort of grumpy/sunshine dynamic in road trip books.

Holly: Most epic road trip is a tough one. Maybe the time my sister and I borrowed Grandma’s giant Buick and drove around the Southwest for two weeks. This was pre-smartphone, but post-Mapquest, so we had printed out directions for our route every day. Not all of them were entirely accurate. Also, it rained while we were in Vegas, so the one day we stayed in a fancy hotel instead of camping, the pool was closed. Lame! 

However, my reading of road trip romances is probably more heavily shaped by the many times my husband and I drove from Chicago to the East Coast, because we were those people who got a dog and then had to bring him everywhere with us. All of our trips included hours of just talking and checking in with each other. (And listening to the Savage Lovecast.) So the idea of a road trip as a time set apart from real life, where you can build connections in ways that aren’t usually possible – I completely believe it.

Ingrid: Well, I bailed on Maryland after living abroad and decided to move to Colorado on a bit of a whim. I drove myself all alone the whole way, my car had no air conditioning, and I was stung by a stowaway bee while driving. I think I made it there with $200 to my name. But it was liberating to be that alone, and I loved it. I think road trip romances maybe feature one person too many, based on that experience!! 

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: The best book for this trope has got to be A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare. Other books are also great, sure sure, but Colin is a whole mess, and Minerva pretty much kidnaps him so she can go to a geology convention in Scotland. There’s a lot of that standard rake/bluestocking histrom business in this book, but Dare plays with it in ways that are light and fun, so the whole book is just delightful.

Holly: Good rec, Erin! A Week to be Wicked is hands down my favorite Tessa Dare book. But road trips work in all time periods, so how about a Western? The Gunslinger’s Vow by Amy Sandas is excellent, in part because the perils of the road allow the heroine to reveal herself – both to the hero, and to herself.

Ingrid: Well, Hairpin Curves was absolutely delightful because it took estranged best friends and provided a really gradual but tense unfolding of what went wrong while new romantic tension was building. It felt like a lot of emotional and sexual development at once, which I think makes sense in a road trip—it’s a lot of time to think and talk, and you’re so physically close!! 


What do you think? Do you love the road trip trope? Is there something about it you hate that you’re dying to tell us about? What’s you’re favorite road trip book? Let us know in the comments!

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Best Friend’s Sibling

This week we’re doing a bit of housekeeping by focusing only on the Best Friend’s Sibling trope. What that means is, Erin read a bunch of books and wrote a bunch of reviews, but we all keep reading new books and writing reviews, so a little binge is in order. Why not use a little theme week for a trope Erin finds it hard to resist?

To begin, all of the Smut Reporters share their thoughts on Best Friend’s Sibling…

Bottom line: Do you like the Best Friend’s Sibling Trope?

Erin: I am a total sucker for this trope, even though it’s usually ridiculously predictably tropey. More so for the men being besties than for the women being besties. Much more drama that way.

Holly: I can take it or leave it. It’s not a trope I actively seek out, but I’ll happily read a book that features it.

Ingrid: I have a serious soft spot for it…selectively.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: It’s an excellent melting pot for a scoop of angst (I shouldn’t! But I want to!), a splash of seduction (Let’s succumb to this burning desire!), a pinch of sneaking around (Sibling can’t find out!), and a healthy dose of she’s-worth-fighting-for (not gonna lie, I need it sometimes).

Holly: I do really like it when protagonists already know each other when the book begins. What’s fun about the Best Friend’s Sibling is that they know each other already – but they get to know each other in a completely different way.

Ingrid: I love that there’s a “forbidden” element without necessarily being too…angsty. The ones I like are often rom com, and I love the whole “seeing a whole new person in someone you’ve known your whole life” thing.

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: Some authors are able to create a less problematic dynamic of “Let’s not mess up important relationships with someone we both care about,” but most of the time, this trope involves mad caveman behavior on the part of the sibling, especially if it’s a man/man friend pairing. Independence, good judgement, control – they all get in the mix with caveman sibling behavior.

Holly: There are two popular iterations of this trope: the best friend’s yummy older brother who I’ve been crushing on forever, and the best friend’s pesky younger sister who is suddenly hot. The second one is more problematic for me, mainly because the best friend / older brother also gets involved and is weirdly overprotective of his sister. Bro, if your friend is too lame to date your sister, maybe he’s too lame to be your friend. Just sayin’.

Ingrid: Obviously you walk a fine problematic line of possessiveness. Ideally, the sibling should end up being really happy their two favorite people are hooking up, and those are often just…yummy. However, I absolutely detest when the older brother is a clunky, irrational caveman about the whole thing or when the hero acts like the heroine is someone who needs to be protected from her own urges. That’s gross.

Does the trope work better in a specific sub-genre or time period?

Erin: Given that the primary conflict in this trope tends to be that the sibling (brother) won’t approve, it’s a bit easier to stomach without having wayward thoughts of “wrong!” in historical romance, given that women’s rights and social understandings of equality have evolved in Western civilization over the past couple centuries. On the other hand, having a contemporary sister lay into her brother about his caveman behavior can be pretty entertaining.

Holly: Thinking about this in terms of the problematic side of things, the overprotective brother works better for me in historical romance – it feels less gross caveman and more about acknowledging the economic insecurities of unmarried women. 

Ingrid: Historical certainly takes the edge off the caveman approach, but I have enjoyed it in a historical and a contemporary context.

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 don’t know! 

Holly: Being Hospitable by Meka James. This is a sexy f/f novella where a young woman moves in with / seduces her older brother’s best friend. There’s definitely the dynamic of “Oh, yeah, you’re still the pesky young’un” that allows the characters to banter and play with the boundaries between them, but the brother is not an impediment. In fact, the heroines worry about it for a hot minute, and then Charley calls up her brother (alone – she wants to stand on her own two feet in her relationship with her family), tells him she’s dating his best friend, and…that’s the end of it. 

Ingrid: Charming as Puck, by Pippa Grant. This is the first Pippa I ever read, and I absolutely adored the way she executed the whole thing. Humorous perfection.

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.”

Annnnnd…GO!

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”
Let's Talk Tropes

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, 
  5. Heroine assumes that EVERYTHING WAS A LIE AND WHAT CAN I EVEN BELIEVE,
  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?

Holly:

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).

Erin:

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

Ingrid:

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?