Saturday Smutty Six: Lies

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge prompt this month is Lies (about which more on Wednesday), and a big lie is just such a great point of tension that we thought we’d highlight some more romances that hinge on a humdinger of a lie. Or maybe just a little lie that grows and grows until it’s a big problem. Either way, a lie between the protagonists is a great reason they can’t truly be together, so without further ado, here are some liars.

How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

Holly is on record stating that this is the first romance novel she ever loved. Yes, there is some cringey Old School nonsense going on, but the banter is just delightful. This is a classic deception plot, complete with the heroine melting down because the revealed lie means that *everything* about their relationship was a lie. (Of course it wasn’t, but that’s the trope, right there.)

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

“I lied and said we were married even though you’re blackmailing me because I thought you were about to die, but then you woke up and now you have amnesia but we’re still married and I’m terrified but also starting to have pants feels.”

Hexbreaker by J.L. Hawk

Tragedy forced Tom to leave his old life and start fresh, but a murder on his beat puts him perilously close to his past. He can’t do nothing if it’ll save lives, though, so he does the best he can, transferring to the witch police HQ, and hoping that he won’t have to reveal his sordid history to the prickly but lovable Cicero as they work to solve the mystery.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Not all lies are enormous, earth-shattering, identity-threatening dealbreakers. In Bet Me, Cal initially asks Min out because of a bet (that he thinks is a joke); Min knows about the bet, and agrees to go out of spite. But because Cal doesn’t know that Min knows, the bet takes on a life of its own as it looms over their slowly deepening relationship.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon

“I think you’re wonderful and brilliant and so competent, and I shouldn’t date you, but I just can’t resist you, so it’s gonna be awkward when you find out that the only reason we’re working together is because I’m an undercover agent trying to figure out who in the office is breaking the law. (I’m pretty sure it’s not you…)”

Earl on the Run by Jane Ashford

This is a classic, low-stakes meet-cute deception. Harriet’s Grandfather has swooped in and made Harriet an heiress with a dowry. Jack is a Bostonian with traveler roots, so when he inherits the estate next to Harriet and is rudely snubbed by his grandmother, he joins a group of travelers and ends up sneaking around incognito. Harriet deceives Jack by cornering him into marriage, and Jack deceives Harriet by not telling her he’s the traveler she’s become enamored with.

Want more lies? Here are all our reviews of romances featuring lies and the lying liars who tell them.

Saturday Smutty Six: “All I remember about this book is… (group edition)” with partial covers for Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small, Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James, Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas, To Catch An Heiress by Julia Quinn, Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught, and The Raider by Jude Deveraux

Saturday Smutty Six: All I Remember Redux: Two for One

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. Luckily, this week we found some books that at least two of us read, so you’ll have just a little more information. Maybe we can interest you in these books based on what we do remember?

All I remember about this book is…

Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small

Erin: …Oh. My. God. Holly and I read this book twenty years ago and still remember all the highlights. Skye gets married and then ends up in a harem and then somehow gets back to England but then Niall is married and I have no idea how they manage to finally get married but I think Niall’s sex addict wife dies of the pox?

Holly: …there is so much sex in this book. The bit that stands out to me is Neil’s wife (who looks like Skye) (also, this is probably the only book in which I remember the MCs’ names, including books that I read last week) is a nymphomaniac who can’t get enough luvin’ from her husband so she starts working in a brothel and has a book of sex positions. Men come in, pick a position, and she’ll do them. She and another whore have a sex-off one night. She dies of syphilis. It’s very convenient because now Neil is free to finally marry Skye as husband #4. 

Also the scene where Skye’s amnesia goes away is very striking. Husband number #3 and Neil get in a fight at court and when Neil falls down she remembers *everything.* So much drama!!!!

Also also, Skye’s nails are always buffed to a beautiful pink.

Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James

Erin: …they have an interlude at a masquerade party and are parted for years. When they’re reunited, she remembers him, but he doesn’t recognize her, though they do fall in love and marry. When she says that the wedding night sex is better than before, he gets all ragey that she’s 1) not a virgin and 2) apparently had sex with his twin brother (she didn’t). Also the climactic moment is YIIIIIIKES because even though he said he was over the whole her sleeping with his brother thing (she didn’t and he wasn’t), when he gets home from a trip he finds out she’s pregnant, assumes it can’t possibly be his, and sends her off to the country where she nearly dies. It’s a lot. 

Holly: …I REMEMBER THIS ONE. Just that he gets all ragey, and then finally recognizes her when she appears at a ball in her masquerade outfit from the very beginning and he realizes it was her the whole time because of course he’s really been looking for his mystery whore for years.

Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas

Holly: …I was horrified at how *old* the heroine was (she’s 30). She hires a sex worker for a 30th birthday present to herself. (It seems, from the blurb, that there’s some mistaken identity stuff that happens, but I don’t remember that part.) She was curvy and had red hair so I pictured my high school principal and was horrified and did not enjoy the reading experience. Might like it better if I read it now that I’m not 16 anymore.

Erin: …I read this one, too! All I remember about this one was that she hired herself a delicious man treat because she was so old and things did not at all go the way either of them planned.

The Raider by Jude Deveraux

Ingrid: …he’s real hot at nighttime and during the day he’s disgusting and pompous.

Erin: …the hero returns to town and gets himself out of a pickle by pretending to be fat, stuffing his clothes with pillows, and has to keep up the charade whenever he goes out. The heroine thinks he’s ridiculous and disdains him, but he’s secretly a dashing spy attacking the British. Also something happens at a bucolic lighthouse-y spot at the dramatic climax.

Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught

Holly: …the reading experience stuck out to me more than the actual book. I distinctly remember the chair I was sitting in when I read it (the blue armchair that used to be by the fireplace). My sister got it from her sister-in-law, who was a McNaught superfan. And my reaction was: what even is this utter rapey garbage? The titular Whitney is a doormat and the hero is terrible and leaves her in his country house and then thinks she’s cheating on him but she loves him anyways. 

Erin: …OMG he’s so sexy on the stairs! OMG, she’s so daring standing on the horse! OMG, her dad is terrible. Something about chess. OMG, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS MAN?! OMG, HOW IS SHE GOING TO FORGIVE HIM? I guess the baby scene at the end was kinda sweet?

Holly: Of course she stands up on her horse. That’s like, bodice ripper heroine behavior rule #23.

To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn

Ingrid: …I literally only remember that he thinks she’s a spy with a name that reminded me of Carmen Sandiego.

Holly: …so I’ve read the sequel literally 86 times so I know that it’s about Caroline and Blake Ravenscroft and Caroline collects words. There’s some stuff in a tower.

Have you read any of these books? Do you remember them better than we do? Let us know in the comments!

Smut Reporting

Bridgerton Discussion: It’s Not Fluff

In light of it being February, which means a bunch of articles about romance novels – and how they’re nothing but fluff – we decided to hash out our feelings about Bridgerton. We had a lot of them: excitement about watching a romance adaptation (especially with our spouses, none of whom read romance but all of whom were good sports and then got totally hooked), disappointment about some of the decisions the showrunners made, discomfort about the trajectory for Marina Thompson’s character…but most of all, a sense of grumpiness in the way people have been talking about the show. Not the thoughtful critiques of the show, because there are nuanced and necessary conversations to be had about race and gender and consent and class, but the ubiquitous takes that were like, “Wow, this show is fluffy, but it’s shockingly fun!”

Continue reading “Bridgerton Discussion: It’s Not Fluff”
Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight: Julia Quinn

Looking for a new author? Here’s everything you need to know about Julia Quinn, whose books include the now-famous Bridgerton series, as well as Splendid, How to Marry a Marquis, and The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband.

What She Writes:

Regency romance (and a few Georgians) with lots of banter and not a ton of heat. For the most part, her books are set in one interconnected world, so secondary characters appear in multiple series, and everyone in her books is reading the same (utterly ridiculous) gothic romance. 

What Makes Her Unique:

She leans into the romp without stepping too far outside generic expectations for regency romance, so it’s usually pretty fun to read her books, even when she’s working with an angstier narrative. 

Writing Style:

Did we mention the banter?

Her Books in gif Form:

Why We Love Her:

Even when she’s getting serious and angsty, her books are playful and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Plus, the callbacks are so much fun, especially for dedicated readers. (The Smith-Smythe series may not be her best work, but that Smith-Smythe Musicale sure is something else.) 

She Might Not Be For You If:

You like to mix it up with social, racial, or queer diversity. Or if an abundance of witty banter makes you want to throw books. 

Notable Quotation: 

“May I be of assistance?” he murmured. 

Grace shook her head frantically. She could not touch him. She did not know why, precisely, but she knew in her bones that it would be an utter disaster to put her hand in his.

“Very well,” he said with a small sigh. “Ladies today are so very capable. It breaks my heart, really.” He leaned in, almost as if sharing a secret. “No one likes to feel superfluous.”

Grace just stared at him. 

“Rendered mute by my grace and charm,” he said, stepping back to allow them to exit. “It happens all the time. Really, I shouldn’t be allowed near the ladies. I have such a vexing effect on you.”

He was mad. That was the only explanation. Grace didn’t care how pretty his manners were, he had to be mad. And he had a gun. 

-The Lost Duke of Wyndham

Content Warnings:

Much of Quinn’s popular backlist is around 20 years old, so there’s definitely content that doesn’t jive with modern expectations. For example, it’s hard to argue that Simon consents to sex with Daphne in The Duke and I, which probably wouldn’t fly now. 

The Bottom Line:

There is definitely a reason that Julia Quinn is a bestselling author – she tells a good story! She is remarkably consistent in style and tone, so you know pretty much exactly what to expect when you pick up one of her books. But she doesn’t push boundaries or play with tropes in unexpected ways, and is therefore probably best suited to readers who are looking for a pretty conventional historical romance narrative with relatively low heat. 

Start With:

How to Marry a Marquis (Lady Danbury 4-eva!)

Smut Reporting

Discussion: Bridgerton Expectations

Have you read Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books? What do you think about them?

Erin: For a long time they were my favorite series. The last couple I remember going out to purchase on release day. I’ve reread them a couple of times here and there, but it’s been a while since the last time. When I reread The Duke and I last year, I came to the conclusion that much of what I loved about them fit me when I was in my early romance days 15+ years ago but doesn’t necessarily fit me now. So it’s a nostalgia thing, I guess, where I can recall the world Quinn created fondly.

Holly: I read them once, like, 15 years ago. Except for It’s In His Kiss (Book #7), which I have a hard copy of for some reason and therefore have reread a handful of times. I remember literally nothing about The Duke and I. What really sticks in my memory about Quinn’s books are the secondary characters and jokes that show up repeatedly, like the dreaded Smith-Smythe Musicale and Miss Buttersworth and the Mad Baron and that the poor Featherington sisters have to wear the worst clothes and that everyone is afraid of Lady Danbury (aka The Best Character). 

Ingrid: Yes. But I had to recheck myself because it’s been quite a long time. I do remember really loving them when I first cracked them open.

What’s your impression of the trailer? 

E: This show is going to be suuuuuuper drama. 

H: It looks so delicious. Just, like, the visuals are so sumptuous. I love it. 

I: I will require chocolate and many cups of tea.

Do you think Shonda Rhimes is a good fit for translating Quinn to television?

E: My experience with Shonda Rhimes is limited to dramas, like, 10 years ago, so at first I was…surprised. Then I realized that, even though I look back at the series with a lens of “funny JQ witty bantery stories,” it is pretty dramatic with some definite angst when all is said and done. So I’m optimistic. Plus, I like that they just threw out the “everybody’s white” convention and owned that they’re doing their own thing with this production, even while clearly playing on some fan favorite aspects of the series.

H: Am I still allowed in the club if I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal? I did watch the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, though. So my impression of Rhimes is over the top drama and ridiculous plot and…that sounds like a Regency romance. 

I: All I know is Grey’s Anatomy, and while I LOVED that show for a good long time it went on a bit too long for me… I hope they’ll let the books stand on their own and will let romance’s natural drama shine through. I imagine Shonda Rhimes is probably a good fit for that.

What are your expectations for the show?

E: I expect that it will be bananapants. 

H: Extreme bananapants. 

I: So many bananas.

How excited are you? 

E: I’m tentatively excited. I think the series is a product of its time and hasn’t necessarily aged well (I don’t think Daphne’s scandalous sex scene with Simon would ever be written that way now, for example), so I do want to get a bit of that fun back without some of the “ehh” I get if I read some of the character dynamics now. But at the same time, there’s that place in your heart where you want to keep your own imaginings of a story you loved back when, and seeing it executed with someone else’s vision might ruin that, and it’s scary! 

H: Soooo excited! I mean, I’m happy enough about the source material, and happy that Netflix is letting Shonda Rimes do her thing, but really, I just LOVE period costume pieces. I don’t care if they are terrible and historically inaccurate and that the costuming is nonsense! They are pretty to look at! And this will be ridiculous, soapy fun. I spent all of early December watching sci-fi TV with my husband as preemptive bribery for him watching this with me. He’s going to roll his eyes a lot but I don’t even care. 

I: I’m definitely curious and excited. I think it’ll be a much-needed distraction after a dumpster fire of a year, and I want some angsty dark-corner brooding and sneaky smooching in fancy period clothes. I want ridiculous miscommunications and I want some tastefully-done make up gestures. I want what I want, and that’s all there is to it. Where’s my popcorn?