The Great Smut Debate (with debate inked in cursive by a fountain pen)
The Great Smut Debate

What We Do in the Shadows: Crossing Lines and Pushing Boundaries in Romance

“It’s not a romance if the hero is mean to the heroine.”

“It’s not a romance if the relationship is toxic.”

“It’s not a romance if one protagonist rapes the other one.”

“It’s not a romance if someone is physically harmed.”

“It’s not a romance if the power differential between the characters is too extreme.”

There is nothing, in any definition of romance, that says that the characters have to have a good relationship. In fact, many great romances feature terrible people doing terrible things, but in a dramatically entertaining way. The broadest definition of the genre says that a romance includes a romantic relationship with a happy, optimistic ending—for the characters. Even if we go by Ingrid’s more narrow definition of what makes a satisfying romance—that the characters grow separately and together—we can see that negative interactions can be a catalyst for growth, as the characters move towards an HEA. 

When we first started on this journey into the question of “What Makes a Romance,” we were spurred on by the seemingly endless debates about whether something was *really* a romance novel—or whether it should be more properly classified as “women’s fiction” (or “chick lit” or just “fiction”). 

But as we started to outline all the intersections of “what counts as a romance,” we found that the conversation is much more expansive than simply “true romance” vs. “women’s fiction with romantic elements,” and today we’re shifting once again to a completely different nexus. These books are not dismissed as “not romance” because the relationship is underdeveloped or doesn’t end happily, but rather because the relationship includes stuff that makes the reader uncomfortable. Invariably, these books are blasted as “problematic,” which is ultimately a term without meaning—it literally means “unresolved” or “posing a problem.” We are pushing back on this discourse here by discussing a range of books deemed “problematic” and exploring what these books actually do.

Continue reading “What We Do in the Shadows: Crossing Lines and Pushing Boundaries in Romance”
TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Animals

September’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Animals.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Erin Read: My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris (2018)

Why was this book on your TBR?

I was talking about monster romance with a friend, and she asked me if I’d read this book, so I decided I would. 

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Her boyfriend is an actual bear.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book somehow manages to be totally bonkers and totally normal. Nora’s life is such a normal millennial (or even Gen Z, now that they’re adulting) singleton life, but it’s juxtaposed with the complete absurdity of Nora being in a relationship with an actual bear. That doesn’t have a name. So they just call him “the Bear” or “Bear.” Absurd. 

Nora went camping with her last pretentious boyfriend, broke up with him, and also came face-to-face with a bear! Back home, she and her friends go out and think of all the things Nora wants and should expect of her next boyfriend so she doesn’t end up with another dud, as friends do. Meanwhile, fires are raging through the wilderness, displacing animals. Wandering home wasted, Nora finds a bear—THE bear, she knows because he’s holding a magazine she left behind—going through her trash and decides to invite him into her home and feed him, as one does with wild bears. Everything rolls from there. 

The charm of this book is in its many amusing observations of real life. Things like dealing with a job that pays the bills but otherwise sucks. The conversations people have at parties that end up being superficial and/or competitive. Friends projecting their relationship issues on you when things get tough. Parents not approving of your choices. And also Bear just being the best boyfriend (with some imperfections, like not cleaning up his cereal bowl promptly and an unfortunate propensity to break things). He hangs shelves for Nora’s cat to climb so it doesn’t get stepped on. He wears clothes and gets a job and lives among people all for her. And he spoons like a champ. So, at the end of the day, even though Nora and the Bear totally have a sexual relationship and he leaves her to hibernate for months and bears aren’t, like, simply members of society, this ends up being a really sweet love story. But it’s also weird.

Buy Now: Amazon

Holly Read: Angel in Marble by Elaine Coffman (1991)

Mackinnon series, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

Whenever I see a bodice ripper in a Little Free Library, I have to grab it. It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself!

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Purely, 100%, based on the stepback. 

look at this pig

I needed to find out why that pig is there!

What are your thoughts on the book?

Going with the animal theme, I am pleased to report that the very first time we see our heroine, she is being chased down the street by an irate goose. So that’s solid.

In addition to the goose, in the early chapters, there’s a run-in with a very mean bull. There’s also a cow who gets her head stuck in a fence, which gives our hero the opportunity to manipulate our heroine into spending time with him. So many animal shenanigans!

Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book, so I cannot tell you what the deal with the pig is. 

Why did I not finish this book? Well, this is one of those books where the hero is like “I see this boundary that this woman is drawing and I can tell she doesn’t like spending time with me and definitely doesn’t want me to touch her but she’s so extra hot that I am going to ignore all of this because having her is what I deserve.” It was exceedingly gross. (There’s also a whole weird backstory about his parents getting killed by Comanches and I don’t really want to know where *that* is going, nor do I have the mental energy to parse the language that Coffman uses to describe these events in a thoughtful way.)

I think I need to reorganize my pile o romance novels into books I actually want to read and books that I want to have on my shelves for aesthetic purposes. Because this one is, I think, the latter.

Buy Now: Amazon

Want to join us in tackling your TBR? Next month’s theme is Flirting with Danger.

Recommended Read, Review

Review: Enemies with Benefits by Roxie Noir (2019)

Loveless Brothers, Book #1

Review of Loveless Brothers, Book #3

Heat Factor: Once they get going, boy do they go

Character Chemistry: That thing where they argue all the time but their competition also pushes them both to do and be better

Plot: “I definitely don’t think he’s attractive.”

“I definitely don’t want to kiss her.”

“We’re definitely not having sex.”

“He’s definitely not my boyfriend.”

“I’m definitely not in love with her.”

“Nope. Definitely not.”

Overall: Did I immediately read Book #2 in the series? Yes, yes I did.

Continue reading “Review: Enemies with Benefits by Roxie Noir (2019)”

Saturday Smutty Six: Old School Romances We Barely Remember

In honor of our Old School reading this month, we decided to look at our reading archives and see what turned up. Unfortunately, we read these books so long ago, we don’t remember much. Maybe we can interest you in these books based on what we do remember?

All I remember about this book is…

The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh

Erin: …they meet when, on her first night as a (virgin) prostitute, he hires her and they have extremely uncomfortable sex in the alleyway outside a theater. Then she unexpectedly (but very luckily) gets hired as his governess. Awkwardness and angst ensues. I’m not sure if it was just the beginning, but I recall the overall mood of this one as morose.

The Pleasure Master by Nina Bangs

Holly: …it’s about a woman who gets sent back in time (by a talking toy…monkey?) to some guy who lives in a cave (not sure why) in medieval Scotland. He has sex magic. 

Prince of Dreams by Lisa Kleypas

Erin: …this exiled Russian aristocrat who is somehow related to the heroine of the first book in this duology gets the stink eye from the hero of the first book in this duology because he just knows that he’s somehow fated to be a part of that hero’s daughter’s life. Because what dad doesn’t want to hear that a grown man is fated to be with his not-yet-grown daughter? Anyway, then there’s this book where she is grown and all of that prediction of the future pulls together with, I believe I recall correctly, maximum angst. And Russian stuff.

A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey

Holly: …the “hero” tells the heroine, “Why do you keep making me rape you?” Also a bunch of pirate stuff.

Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught 

Erin: …they’re not really equals because she’s a country gentlewoman and he’s a duke, but he’s taken by her when they meet and marries her out of hand. Then on their way from the wedding to his estate, he is kidnapped and shipped off to parts unknown while she is left a naive widow at the mercy of people she doesn’t really know, unaware that they may not be acting in the best interests of either her or the lost duke. Needless to say, when the duke gets home, he’s really mad. 

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

Holly: …this is the first Spindle Cove book, and it’s all about a battle of the sexes. And there’s a literal battle? With cannons? 

Back to Old School, Dueling Review

Back to Old School: Pirate Week

Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey (1990)

Heat Factor: It’s your standard old school fare—a couple of relatively descriptive scenes and then a bunch of interludes that fade to black.

Character Chemistry: Antagonism leads to love. 

Plot: Georgie is dressed as a boy but James knows she’s a woman. So he’s seducing her. And then they’re forced to get married. 

Overall: Slow. Then bonkers.


Captured by Beverly Jenkins (2009)

Heat Factor: There’s a lot of blue balls, and then it’s just balls to the wall.

Character Chemistry: It was “NO!” Then, “YES, let’s do it.” Then, “Let’s get married!”

Plot: Dominic steals Clare away from her mistress and shows her a life of freedom, but Clare can’t rest easy until her children have also been freed from slavery.

Overall: High stakes, low tension. Very historically juicy.

Continue reading “Back to Old School: Pirate Week”