Oct 19 2017 8:30am

A How-to Guide for Reviewing Romance for the Inexperienced (and Indifferent) Critic

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6 Aspects of Romance You Should Definitely Bring Up When You Review the Genre

Being a critic isn’t an easy job. Especially when it comes to reviewing romance.

It’s such a complex genre with all those predictable endings that are so feel-good. I mean, what’s to critique in that? And all that intricate conflict, carefully crafted plot development, and detailed characterization can be very overwhelming to the inexperienced critic.

I’m here to help you.

What’s that? Oh, you’re actually very experienced and well-read individual? I see, just not with romance. Forgive me for assuming you’re a beginner given the inaccuracies that slip in an occasional (or every) sentence of your review.

I suppose it is forgivable since romance is out of the norm of what a book critic, like yourself, usually reads. When serious things like death, violence, introspection, and assault are your standard, knowing what to do with something so touchy-feely as romance is very challenging.

Here’s a best practices guide to give you a little assistance on reviewing the new-to-you genre you just started reading last week and you’re now a self-proclaimed avid fan of.

SEE ALSO: The Language of Praise and How We Talk About the Books We Love

1) Harp on the sex

We know, we know. It’s pretty exciting to read something that’s as you say, titillating. We know, it’s all you think our genre is about, and who can blame you for being excited by it. We get so little love based sensuality in our cultural media, we can hardly blame you for not being able to think about anything else when you see words describing kissing or private parts on the page. But try to remember, there are more words in the story than just the sexy ones. Like characters and plots and feelings!

And here’s a little hint I’ll pass on for free. A romance with a happily-ever-after is still a romance whether it has sex or not. I know that’s about as shocking as the fact that true love actually exists.

2) And those orgasms...

It is a phenomenon, seeing pleasure written on the page. Women and men getting to come an equal number of times or, gasp, female characters maybe, even… dare I say it… getting to orgasm more times than a man? I hope it hasn’t offended you too much. You really are such a valiant person for being brave enough to put up with so much sexuality in a genre that’s written by mostly women who know that sort of thing is believable.

3) Those happy endings

I get that you’re excited you’ve read both kinds of romance—contemporary and regency—but there is a little more to it than that (like the upwards of eight subgenres that even Google lists, when asked). It is tempting to believe that they’re all the same because they have an HEA. (And no, that doesn’t stand for, How to Eat Artichokes.) Even though you’ve only read five of the millions of romances out there, try not to be disappointed when they don’t all end with a wedding, a white dress and little children running around everywhere. (This may be news, but the whole twins thing, one boy, one girl, isn’t everyone’s idea of a happily-ever-after).

4) These unrealistic expectations

It’s overwhelming truly when you’re used to reading only tragedy to read about people finding fulfillment in their lives and getting what they want. What’s that? You say it’s not realistic? If you’ve never met a woman who’s gotten everything she wants in life and gotten to eat her cake too, we should get together sometime and I’ll introduce you to my friends. Romance is all about the community, you know. We tried the whole isolating ourselves like hermits and not talking to anyone for a year while we write our books thing, but sadly, we like talking to people.

5)  The salacious covers

They’re scintillating, aren’t they? It’s strange to see book covers with actual people with bodies and skin on them. But I promise if you look at enough of them you won’t be blinded with the urge to giggle every time, and you’ll start to appreciate how wonderful it can be to look at a man who knows how to find his local gym.

6) The feels

All that love, right? It kind of gets to you after you read one or two of them. It makes you want to come back for more and more. (Psst, I promise not to tell anyone that you haven’t been able to stop reading romance since you started. I know your partner found some under your bed last week, but your secret is safe with me.) If you stick with it and get through the awkward shy stage, you might not break down in tears every time the happy ending comes around and you realize there’s no such thing as too much love in the world. It’s hard when you’re used to reading about impending death all the time. It’s challenging for us romance readers too. We’ve had to build up a lot of stamina to handle how good it feels to read so much true love day after day. But keep reading and you’ll get there someday! If you get really brave, you’ll be ready to read your book in public and get shamed for it by someone, just like you used to do.

Thank you for taking the time to read our books you lovingly still call bodice rippers, no matter how many times we correct you. We appreciate your willingness to potentially piss off half your readership for even acknowledging that our books exist—and for rubbing it in.

We’ll look forward to working with you on a more personal level next time, now that you’ve actually consulted with a professional in the industry you’ve decided to analyze. Our relationship may not be destined for an HEA. (Let’s try again. It’s Happily-Ever-After, not Haven’t-Even-Asked). We know you’re unlikely to remember this conversation, but it’s a challenge that any romance lover would be up to. In the meantime, we’ll just keep reading the books whose sales keep the rest of the publishing industry in business.

H&H Editor Picks:

11 Books H&H Reviewers Couldn’t Put Down in September 2017

Love Wins (With a Little Work)—and Romance Teaches Us How

October 2017 Romance Novels New Releases Shopping List






Robin enjoys writing romance to avoid the more unsavory things in life, like day jobs, housework, and personal demons. To feed her coffee and chocolate addictions, she can frequently be found overdosing on mochas. When not writing with her cat, she’s busy embracing untamable curly hair and adventuring in the outdoors with her husband.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
What an enjoyable article! If only it could be published in the NYTBR ....
Bonnie Loshbaugh
2. Bonnie Loshbaugh
Thanks for the giggle! Although now I have an incredible urge to ditch my current WIP and start writing 'How to Eat Artichokes'...
Robin Lovett
3. RobinLovett
@Kareni - Thanks :) yeah... if only... *sigh* The NYT did have a better article the other week. Perhaps you saw it. Though it's in the "Style" section rather than the Book Review section... mmmmmmmm.....

@Bonnie - Write it! I'd read it!!! LOL
4. Sultanah
This is amazing!!! A well written piece. If I read another review that is basically a summary of the plot from A-Z it'll be too soon.
5. Kareni
I hadn't seen that article, Robin, so thanks for the link. I had seen other pieces about that study though. It's nice that it's getting some good press.
Carmen Pinzon
6. bungluna
...A man who knows how to find his local gym...!

Thanks for the laugh; I needed that.
Robin Lovett
9. RobinLovett
@KeiraSoleore Happy to provide a laugh :) We have to find humor in these things or we'll go crazy!!!
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