<i>Lord Savage</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Lord Savage: Exclusive Excerpt Mia Gabriel "I instantly forgot everything except how he’d kissed me last night..." <i>Dark Blood</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Dark Blood: Exclusive Excerpt Christine Feehan "You can’t go around saying things like that to me when we have company." <i>Irresistible Force</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Irresistible Force: Exclusive Excerpt D.D. Ayres "Even his scowl was, well, damn sexy..." H&H Reads <i>First Grave on the Right</i> (6 of 6) H&H Reads First Grave on the Right (6 of 6) Darynda Jones Grim Reapers are people too! Join us for the FINAL installment of H&H Reads First Grave on the Right
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Showing posts by: Elizabeth Vail click to see Elizabeth Vail's profile
Tue
Sep 3 2013 2:00pm

Villainesses in Romance: The Rival, the Evil Vagina, the Bad Mutha, and More!

Angelina Jolie as MaleficentFemale villains in romance novels come in a class of their own. For example, it’s fairly simple to pluck a male baddie out of the bargain bin at the Obsessively Misogynist Murderous Rapist Barn to provide some last-minute conflict, but female villains with actual rap sheets are relatively rare.

But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be effective and dangerous adversaries; female villains tend to be more intellectual, and their weapons rely on carefully-chosen words or manipulations. The wounds they inflict, therefore, are often internal. Instead of attacking a protagonist outright, they’ll simply wear away at their self-esteem, their confidence, their trust in themselves and the world around them.

That being said, after spending years reading romance (for science!), I’ve noticed that the majority of female villains tend to fall into one of these five types:

[And the first kind is...]

Thu
Mar 14 2013 4:30pm

Men are from Mars: The Art of Writing Misogynists

Until You by Judith McNaughtBack in the 1980s, novels like Judith McNaught’s historicals ranked at the top of the charts. They had intrigue, they had excitement, they had heroines in gorgeous (albeit historically-suspect) gowns, as well as heaps and heaps of drama.

They also had extremely aggressive and dominating heroes who often were, for the lack of a better word, misogynists. Take some of McNaught’s most popular novels—Until You, Whitney My Love, and Something Wonderful. Stephen, Clayton, and Jordan are wealthy, handsome, and powerful; but they dismiss women as grasping chits who care only for money, status, and frivolous finery. They continually suspect the intentions of their own heroines on the basis of their femininity, resulting in Big Misunderstandings that fuel much of their novels’ drama.

No one can say that McNaught’s novels are boring—whether you are reading or hate-reading them, they are impossible to put down until the final page. But the virtues of McNaught’s heroes have been hotly contested in romance circles ever since. Hate-readers often cite the heroes’ misogyny as the novels’ main drawback. But fans assert that, despite their misogyny, McNaught’s heroes are still compelling, interesting and entertaining characters—even though some readers do add the apologetic footnote of “these books were written in a different time.”

But does that mean that heroes written in today’s “more enlightened” cultural climate cannot be misogynists? Is it impossible to have a sexist hero without a sexist novel? Or without the novel supporting sexist ideas?

[Good question...]

Wed
Feb 27 2013 10:30am

Love This Pain: Romance Novels That Twist the Knife

Private Arrangements by Sherry ThomasDuring one of the earlier episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, young surgeon Meredith Grey asks herself, “Why do I keep hitting myself in the hand with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.”

You might very well hear that same question and response from a number of devoted romance readers. While all romance novels end with a happy ending for our hero and heroine, certain romance writers take a particular glee in making sure the protagonists’ journey is as excruciatingly painful and drawn-out as possible.

And we freaking love it. Bring on the tortured glances, the All-Important Words that catch in the throat, the miraculous opportunities to solve everything that go unnoticed or forgotten, the surprise obstacles out of nowhere that throw our protagonists even further asunder right when they’re about to come together at last.

That’s not to say that other romances don’t have conflict or tension. Far from it. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had from a novel that provides our hero and heroine with a solid central conflict and spends the next three hundred pages depicting their adventures overcoming it.

[But there's angst and then there's ANGST...]

Tue
Jan 15 2013 6:00pm

Dr. Lovinkind’s Guide to Common Romance Medicine: Diagnosis for Love!

The Stethoscope image by Alex E. Proimos via FlickrGreetings, and welcome to the first edition of Dr. Lovinkind’s Guide to Common Romance Medicine. I studied for seven years (three of those disguised as a footman!) at Woodiwiss University’s Romantic Medical School and earned my residency at New York’s famous St. Kinsale’s Secret Baby Research Hospital. I’ve since opened my own practice to offer exemplary medical care to plucky orphans, bluestockings with secret pasts, and scarred Dukes with limps. While I wish to remain anonymous in order to protect the identity of my own patients, I am more than willing to share my medical expertise on the unique nature of Romance Medicine.

Head Trauma

The romance protagonist’s skull is less vulnerable to head trauma than a regular person’s due to a thin, extra layer of bone (resulting in the natural “hard-headed stubbornness” of the romance hero and heroine). However, a protagonist occasionally does sustain brain damage. The most common result of this is amnesia.

[Sorry, what's your name, again? I seem to have forgotten!...]

Thu
Jan 10 2013 1:00pm

It’s Not the Size of the Boat, It’s the Motion in the Ocean: Bad Sex in Romance from Balogh, James, and Grant

Look what you had, Laura Linney, it could have been so good!While romance novels can be written in a variety of ways, with countless combinations of settings, time periods, cultures, and conflicts, the genre is generally bound by two ironclad rules.

One, the hero and the heroine must live happily ever after.

And two, the hero must be an unrivalled god in the sack. Doesn’t matter if they’re in space—he’s experienced with zero-G lovin’. Doesn’t matter if he’s born into a time when female sexuality was ignored—he’ll be gifted with an insatiable sexual curiosity and a Teflon dick that resists all possible transmitted diseases. Doesn’t matter if the heroine was genuinely in love with her deceased husband—by the time the hero’s done with her, she won’t even remember her dead hubby’s name.

[But let's get real here...]

Sun
Jan 6 2013 2:00pm

Rarer Than Hen’s Teeth: Sexually Experienced Heroines in Historical Romance

His Every Kiss by Laura Lee GuhrkeWith Chelsea Mueller’s recent Heroes and Heartbreakers article on sexually experienced contemporary and paranormal romance heroines, she took an excellent look at the slut-shaming that can often happen in romances of those subgenres, as well as the growing trend of experienced, sex-positive heroines in contemporary and paranormal romance.

That being said, there is still a romance subgenre that remains a little behind the times—mainly because its stories are intentionally behind the times. I’m speaking, of course, of historical romances. Experienced heroines are rarer than hen’s teeth in a subgenre that remains overwhelmingly fixated on eighteenth to nineteenth century Great Britain.

Well, no, that’s not precisely fair. There are sexually experienced heroines in historical romance—just not a lot with positive sexual experiences before meeting the hero. Most often they are the widows of unimaginative, inconsiderate, or abusive husbands. Those few who engage in the act outside of wedlock are either raped or exploited. Those even fewer heroines who make sex their trade do so only to keep food in their bellies or in the bellies of their numerous and vulnerable dependents.

[Please tell us there are exceptions...]

Mon
Dec 17 2012 5:30pm

Painful Pasts and Current Anguish: Exploring Tortured Heroines in Romance Novels

Baggage image by kthread via FlickrAs loyal readers of romance know, formulas exist for a reason—because they are highly effective. One of the most bang-for-your-buck formulas in romance is the tortured hero, the man spiritually broken by fate, circumstance or the foolishness of his own actions, who is remade and brought into the light by the perseverance of the heroine.

All of that is good, but despite the popularity of that formula, there is always something particularly wonderful about books that successfully reverse that trope.

I’m talking about the tortured heroine.

Tortured heroine romances are such a treat because, quite frankly, tortured characters are more interesting, and often claim the lion’s share of the narrative and character development. Sure, both protagonists are supposed to come with His and Hers baggage (a secret baby here, a psychotic ex-mistress there), but the one with the darkest past needs to travel further to make up their half of the HEA.

[So THAT's the key to getting more attention...]

Tue
Dec 11 2012 10:30am

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful: Villains and the Weakness of Beauty in Romance

Charlize Theron in Snow White and the HuntsmanWhen one thinks of The Wizard of Oz, one of the first lines that comes to mind is when Good Witch Glinda proclaims, “Only bad witches are ugly” (right after she asks Dorothy if she’s a good witch or a bad witch, in one of the most subtly hilarious burns in cinematic history). A simplistic concept that was popular in folktales, fairy tales, and older Disney films, it established the metaphor of an ugly heart seeping into a person’s outward appearance.

Strangely enough, however, that concept has reversed itself in modern literature, most especially in the genres of romance and YA. Now, female villains are almost always depicted as incredibly beautiful, and their physical beauty is depicted as a false lure to the hero, a threat to the heroine, and an indicator of the villain’s inherent moral weakness. 

Now, the core idea behind this is pretty harmless—the presence of a beautiful villainess (either a romantic rival or a bitter ex) provides an opportunity for the hero’s romantic enlightenment as he realizes the heroine’s inner loveliness is preferable to the villain’s outward hotness. But the common execution of this concept in romance leads to conflicting, hypocritical, and often misogynist messages about women and the power they have over their bodies and appearances.

[And that's just not cool...]

Thu
Oct 4 2012 1:30pm

Mandatory Retirement: Putting Tired Romance Tropes Out to Pasture

Dessert by Alexis Fam Photography via FlickrA few years ago, when I first starting reading romance, I could envision a life of reading nothing but romances (with a smattering of fantasy, YA, and fiction). But like when you eat nothing but dessert, after a couple of years I started feeling annoyed. Then frustrated.

Then angry. This isn’t restricted merely to romances. As I once discussed with my father (an avid sci-fi reader), when one reads genre fiction, 20% of it is entertaining, 10% of it is absolutely exquisite—and the other 70% is boring drivel.

Tiring of the genre after over-reading in it is hardly a new or original phenomenon. That being said, romance as a genre still has a history. As ideas and values changed over the years, so did the romances. However, certain ideas in the romance genre have become so stale and overused that they cast a bad name over the rest of the genre.

[Where do we go from here?...]

Fri
Aug 24 2012 10:30am

Marry One Hero with a Sad Childhood and Get the Second One Half-Off: the Trouble with Empathy Coupons

The Vampire Diaries’s Klaus draws Caroline a pictureI have a problem with a certain type of romance. The type where, whenever an AlphHole hero is being a misogynist idiot to the heroine, the heroine will conveniently discover something about the hero that renders her more sympathetic and receptive to his advances, without the hero actually changing or improving his brutish behaviour.

For me, those things are “Empathy Coupons”—traits or characteristics that are tacked onto a protagonist in order to make them seem more sensitive or sympathetic. These traits are incredibly common throughout romance, and they’re not terrible traits in and of themselves as long as they’re supported and developed by the story. However, these traits become Empathy Coupons whenever lesser authors use them to depict a protagonist’s innate, hidden goodness, instead of having their actions or behaviour demonstrate this.

Need a specific example? Here are my top six Empathy Coupons:

[Collect all 6!...]

Fri
Jul 6 2012 3:00pm

Paranormal Alpha Males Get...Alpha-ier!

Spike in Buffy the Vampire SlayerWhile reading paranormal romances, I’ve come to notice that the vast majority of heroes in paranormals are alphas—but not just alphas. The alpha males in paranormals seem more alpha. Alpha-ier? Possessed of above-average alpha-ness? Due to the worldbuilding, narrative constructs, and tropes of the subgenre, paranormal heroes can get away with behavior that would not be permitted with contemporary or historical romance heroes—or at least, not to the same extent.

1. Literalism. One of the most obvious ways in which the Alpha Male is allowed to stretch his heavily muscled, tattooed wings in paranormal romances is with the literal label of Alpha. Leadership positions for paranormal heroes don’t often keep them in boardrooms or on race car tracks or in the British Peerage. The Alphas of wolfpacks or the leaders of vampire clans get the best of both worlds: positions of power and social respect that are also very physical and hands-on. So you can have your Man In Charge Cake and eat it with the Hard Working Sweat-Of-His-Brow Type, too.

[This cake, it sounds DELICIOUS...]

Thu
May 10 2012 1:00pm

Race and Romance: Choosing Between White, Off-White, and Beige

Rue from the Hunger Games sparked a controvery about race in the YA communityThe question of whitewashing in publishing and the presence of people of color in fiction has been bubbling to the forefront of people’s minds within the last couple of years. Most recently, the debate has blazed up within the YA community, with several scandals involving white models on the covers of books with non-white protagonists.

In the romance genre, these arguments don’t even come up that often, and they should—because frankly, romance is whiter than sour cream. The vast majority of historicals take place in Europe or America. Ditto for contemporaries. You don’t see a lot of black vampires or Asian werewolves in paranormal romances. The fact that heroes who are Greek or Spanish or Mediterranean are considered “exotic” should really be a clue as to how romance has remained whiter than Bon Jovi’s teeth.

[Love is color-blind...]

Mon
Apr 9 2012 2:00pm

Read This, It’s Good For You: The Media’s Reaction to E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey

Vegetables image by ConstructionDealMktingOn the plate of the media’s coverage of Popular Entertainment, books have always been the vegetables. Everyone knows that books are healthy and good for you, and that everyone really should consume more of them—especially children and young adults. But, much like vegetables, books often get pushed to the side of the plate in favor of Film (the delicious juicy cheeseburger) and Television (the salty, greasy fries). And whenever the media does mention books, it’s almost always in relation to how Good they are for society, how Artistic, How Intellectually Stimulating, instead of how fun and entertaining they can be. Eat that spinach, kids! It’s full of vitamins and nutrients! However, genre books like romance and erotica are viewed as little more than the wilted, greasy lettuce beneath the onion rings.

Nowhere has this hypocrisy been more apparent than in the media’s reaction to E.L. JamesFifty Shades of Grey. The book has received mixed reviews, much like the reception to Twilight, the series that inspired it. This article isn’t about whether 50 Shades is good or bad, but the backwardness of its portrayal in the media.

[Let’s discuss...]

Sat
Mar 24 2012 5:00pm

Top 5 Alpha Females: Kinsale’s Melanthe, Chuck’s Sarah Walker, and More!

Sarah Walker in ChuckAlpha-Beta, or opposites-attract stories are a common and winning formula in romances today. Fire and ice. Action and reaction. Passion versus logic.

While there are many different flavors for this particular formula, there is a gendered norm. Most commonly, the hero is the Alpha—logical, dominating, socially elevated, and emotionally distant. Add to this a passionate, sensitive heroine who is, if not an outright social outcast, at least on a lower level on the social spectrum. The hero gives the heroine security and fidelity. The heroine teaches the hero how to get in touch with his emotions. Sparks fly. Boots are knocked. Baby-strewn epilogues are had. Everyone goes home happy.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with this trope, the romances that reverse these gendered roles are all the more special to me for being rarer. I’m talking Alpha Female romances. Where the heroine is the strong, take-charge, emotionally scarred character partnered with a sweet, supportive, sly Beta male.

[The lady’s in charge...]

Tue
Feb 21 2012 4:30pm

Revenge in Romance: A Dish Best Served Hot, or Leaving Readers Cold?

Slightly Tempted by Mary BaloghGiven the recent success of ABC’s romantic soap, Revenge, it seems like a good time to discuss one of the most narratively interesting of romance plots: the revenge romance. The storylines tend to follow a basic pattern—one of the protagonists seeks to revenge him or herself for a perceived offense by initiating a romantic relationship with the other protagonist, with the intention of using it to harm/humiliate/defeat the other, only to fall in love, realize they were wrong, reveal their true intentions, and stride off into the Happily Ever After Sunset.

Revenge romances are intriguing because they combine elements that normally shouldn’t work together. On paper, the idea of a protagonist eliciting feelings from an opponent in order to use them as a weapon against them is morally reprehensible. This idea is particularly strong in romances where the hero is the one seeking vengeance, since heroes tend to take the sexual route, often by seducing, ruining, then discarding the heroine to spite her (or whichever protective male relative or friend he’s really hoping to hurt). Heroines in general tend to go the romantic route—they usually aim to have the hero fall in love with them in order to leave them heartbroken. Social ruination doesn’t normally enter into it (at least in historicals).

[Sweet revenge...]

Thu
Jan 19 2012 3:45pm

The ABCs of Romance: The Duke of Slut, Mary Sue, TSTL, and More!

Red telephoneEvery community has its own particular language, parlance, or lingo, developed through shared experiences and ideas. But sometimes that lingo can be a little hard to decipher for those newer to the group. Such is the case with romance readers who have just started to read the wealth of reviewer blogs, or those who have been here for a while, but have been afraid to ask about a particular term. Well, here is a neat little dictionary of reviewer and romance terms to help you get familiar. Feel free to contribute your own terms and definitions in the comments!

Alpha Male: A dominant, aggressive, hyper-masculine hero. Often used in novels where “taming the beast” is a prominent relationship theme, where the 200-pound Navy SEAL can bring terrorists to justice and open difficult jam jars, but his fiery slip of a librarian love interest can bring him to his knees with a single quip.

AlphHole:A critical term for an Alpha Male hero whose aggressive, forceful behaviour crosses the line from romantic to abusive. This can be a contentious issue in the romance community as one reader’s “protective” can be another reader’s “controlling.” Often the line comes down to personal taste. See: Why Judith McNaught still sells books.

[And you can’t have an Alpha male without a...]

Wed
Jan 4 2012 1:30pm

Sunshine, Surf, and Schadenfreude: 5 Reasons to Watch ABC’s Revenge

Revenge posterThe Klingons have always said that revenge is best served cold—and in the case of ABC’s gloriously entertaining new hit, Revenge, it’s better to serve it chilled, in a martini glass, in the Hamptons during one fateful summer.

A modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, the show centers around Emily Thorne, a mysterious and wealthy newcomer to the Hamptons. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants (particularly the reigning family, the Graysons, headed by social “Queen” Victoria), Emily is secretly the daughter of a hedge fund manager who was framed for embezzling and terrorism by the Graysons. He subsequently died in prison, but not before bequeathing a fortune and a chest full of journals explaining the truth to his daughter. Now she’s out to make the bad guys pay, and her devious, thoroughly enjoyable quest is now one of the most entertaining and popular shows on TV.

It’s not too late to join in the fun, and so for the uncertain and uninitiated, here are five easy reasons to save a little time for Revenge on Wednesday nights.

[It’s the final countdown...]

Fri
Nov 4 2011 2:00pm

Romance and Rape Culture: A Modern Reader Reads Whitney, My Love

Whitney, My Love (Original Cover) by Judith McNaughtMy encounter with Judith McNaught’s polarizing classic Whitney, My Love began in a way quite familiar with many plucky Regency heroines: one of my blogger friends told me never to read it, as it was a terrible and scandalous book, which of course meant that I had to read it to see how wretched or misunderstood this novel really was.

What I ended up reading disgusted and horrified me—and I read the sanitized re-edition, in which the hero, Clayton Westmoreland, almost beats and almost rapes Whitney Stone, the heroine. Even though, in this re-edition, the hero stops himself at the last possible moment from completely brutalizing the heroine, the novel’s treatment of the themes of authority, control, gender, and rape culture still strike a powerful and disturbing chord.

[A modern perspective on a classic book...]

Tue
Oct 25 2011 10:30am

Outstaying Their Welcome: When Romantic Couples Linger Too Long

Slightly Tempted by Mary BaloghEver have one of those couples you invite to an open house party, who are incredibly witty and entertaining for the first two to three hours, but grow less tolerable the longer they stay, and who continue to follow you around and butt in when you try to start conversations with other people?

Well, if you wouldn’t want to meet those people in real life, why should we have to tolerate them in a romance novel?

What I’m talking about is Prequel Baggage. Prequel Baggage refers to those couples who have already attained their HEA earlier in a romance novel series, but who overstay their welcome in later books. These are the romantic couples who not only won’t leave, but continue to hog the spotlight, taking story time away from the actual protagonists.

Romance series are incredibly popular, with authors writing anywhere from two to ten books (and sometimes more!) based around a certain group of characters. They can be siblings (like Mary Balogh’s Bedwyns), they can be members of the same Hot Cursed Viking Club (like Lisa Hendrix’s Immortal Brotherhood series), or they can simply be a common group of friends (like Lisa Kleypas’s Wallflowers series and the various friendship permutations in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s books).

[Know when to walk away...]

Thu
Oct 13 2011 10:30am

Loretta Chase’s Dain Does it Right: How Alpha is Too Alpha?

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta ChaseIn romance, the dominating and powerful Alpha Male Hero is as beloved to readers as the misogynist and abusive Cave Man Hero is despised. The Alpha Male is overprotective, take-charge, and possessive. The Cave Man hero is, well, also overprotective, take-charge, and possessive.

There’s a surprisingly thin line between the Alpha Male and the Cave Man, since they possess, at heart, the same general qualities. So what makes the possessiveness of an Alpha Male endearing and romantic, but the possessiveness of a Cave Man intimidating and controlling? Why do readers love the Alpha Male who throws the heroine over his shoulder while carrying her from a burning building, but will throw a book at the wall when the Cave Man does the same thing? Where does the line start? What is the ultimate difference between them?

[Tell me!...]