<i>His Command</i>: Exclusive Excerpt His Command: Exclusive Excerpt Sophie H. Morgan "Follow his lead and she'll get everything she's ever wished for." <em>Her Fake Engagement</em> Her Fake Engagement Gigi Garrett H&H members can read our brand-new original novella for FREE! <i>Dragonsworn</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Dragonsworn: Exclusive Excerpt Sherrilyn Kenyon This Were-Hunter was huge. ... And to her instant horror, she wasn’t immune to his charms. July's Book Club Pick Is Lora Leigh's <em>Wild Card</em>! July's Book Club Pick Is Lora Leigh's Wild Card! Team H & H Prepare to dish on the SEALs of Lora Leigh's Elite Ops #1, Wild Card!
From The Blog
July 19, 2017
Do We Treat Widows and Widowers Differently in Romance?
July 16, 2017
The Only Way You Can Reread Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster Series: In Order
Janet Webb
July 15, 2017
Trust: Exclusive Excerpt
Kylie Scott
July 14, 2017
The 6 Fantasy Romance Authors You Should Be Reading Right Now
Jennifer Proffitt
July 13, 2017
Jane Austen at Home Explores a Different Side of Austen
Myretta Robens
Showing posts by: Elizabeth Vail click to see Elizabeth Vail's profile
Sep 9 2016 10:28am

Dr. Lovinkind’s Guide Part 2: Take Two Secret Babies and Call Me In the Morning

Source: Shutterstock.com


Are you lovesick? Dr. Lovinkind has your romance affliction diagnosed!

Greetings, and welcome to the second edition of Dr. Lovinkind’s Guide to Common Romance Medicine. I studied for seven years (four of them while wearing a false eyepatch!) 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 world-weary courtesans, plot moppets with lisps, and many, many, many cases of amnesia. While I wish to remain anonymous in order to protect the identity of my own patients, I am more than willing to share my expertise on the unique nature of Romance Medicine.

I apologize for the delay between entries in my column. I’ve spent the intervening time working for Doctors without Watches, a time-travel initiative where romance doctors are sent back in time to educate historical romance protagonists about appropriate sexual health–teaching them about birth control, warning about STIs, and dispelling the myth that cunnilingus will give you face-leprosy.

Every time you encounter a disease-free historical romance hero who is unusually wise in the ways of French Letters, Dutch Caps, Swedish Post-It Notes, and other forms of prophylactic European stationary – that’s the work of Doctors Without Watches.

[Read more...]

Sep 7 2016 2:30pm

How to Talk to a Woman Who is Reading a Romance Novel

Editor's Note: An article has been making the rounds—“How to Talk to a Woman Who is Wearing Headphones.” The simple answer: don't. However, just in case a man is thinking “oh if well headphones are definitely out, how else can I bother women,” we're here to let you know that talking to a woman reading a romance novel is also a no-go—there are things we prefer more than talking to you. Lots of things.*

These days, it can be hard to meet women. Many of the girls you meet on the subway or at the bus stop have their noses buried in a romance novel. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them!

If a woman reading a romance novel is single and hoping to meet a boyfriend (or even a false fiancé to placate her family at her sister’s wedding), she will usually be happy to close her book and give you an opportunity to antagonize her for 300 pages before groveling in the third act. You just have to know how to approach her.

What to Do to Get Her Attention

[Read more...]

How to Ruin a Romance in 5 Easy Steps

Are you tired of nobody reading your high falutin articles? Frustrated because people aren’t taking your Important Literary Opinions seriously?

Have you tried Ruining Romance?

Ruining Romance is a time-honored, cost-effective way to gain acclaim for yourself and your superior literary talents. Nothing says “I Am a Serious Writer” more than throwing sand in the faces of Serious Writers Who Are Doing It Wrong. Except, maybe, writing your own stuff. But why do that when you can Ruin Romance in a fraction of the time?

[A fraction, you say?!]

Apr 16 2015 1:15pm

Love in the Age of Dragons: Something for Every Romance Reader in Dragon Age

Alistair in Dragon AgeOne of the reasons I love romance is because it can find a place in any story, in pretty much any storytelling medium. Movies, television shows, novels—and, yes, video games.

Over the years, BioWare games have earned a reputation not only for exhaustingly good worldbuilding, storytelling, and dialogue, but also for entertaining romantic storylines. When I played the Dragon Age games for the first time, not only was I able to customize my own character and determine the stories’ endings with my decisions, but I could also pursue a romance with a selection of love interest characters from my party. Pursuing each love interest, thanks to their differing personalities and backgrounds, results in a different type of romantic story each time—story types that avid romance readers like us can readily recognize. As it turns out, there’s a romance novel for everyone hiding in every Dragon Age game.

For the Fan of the Virginal Beta Male

Romancing Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins allows you to seduce the cloistered, righteous knight and help him adjust to the ramifications of his mysterious parentage. Affectionate, loyal, and happily willing to let the lady take charge, Alistair helps your character stay on the straight and narrow while building his own confidence. Play your cards right, and you just might be the first lady to charge his battlements. He’ll also give you flowers!

[Find your perfect match or collect all 6!...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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!...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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?...]

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!...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]