February 14, 2013

A Love Letter to Romance (& its Readers)

I read my first romance on a dare. The Ana-half of the Book Smugglers was the instigator and the results were fair to middling at best. But then I went into it not expecting very much, so part of the blame rests squarely on my shoulders. I've always been aware of the romance genre. Ever since I was a little girl, my mom's bookshelves were lined with Kathleen Woodiwiss and Judith McNaught right alongside the Dickens and Shakespeare. I knew they were close to her heart and that she reread them often. And since she has always had excellent taste in literature, I'm actually somewhat surprised I never picked one of them up. I think I just assumed they weren't my thing. I always trended scifi and fantasy and never found myself curious enough to find out what was behind the . . . pinker . . . covers on the family shelves.

And then somewhere within the last year or two my awareness of the genre became more focused. Thanks to the tireless efforts of smart ladies like Jane and Sarah, the powerhouses behind Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I became intrigued by all things romance--without ever actually reading them. I became a romance-adjacent lurker, if you will. As I frequented these larger sites regularly, my online reading expanded to include so many lovely, talented romance bloggers. And you know what? They impressed the hell out of me. I love their joie de vivre. I love not only their reviews, but their insights on the book business, the representation of women in fiction, and their preferred genres (and sub-genres--there are so many!). Their thoughts and reactions informed and entertained me even though I hadn't read any of the books they were talking about. And honestly, those are my favorite traits in book reviewers no matter the genre.

In a recent article for Kirkus, Sarah celebrates finding the familiar in romance. She makes the point that, unlike so many other genres,
Familiarity does not always breed contempt in our literary circle. 
I read that single sentence and it was like a light bulb went on. I thought--this is true. And what's more, it is my favorite thing about the genre! These people are not ashamed of their books. Rather, they harbor an uncommonly large affection for their books. They don't judge. They read widely and with such wonderful abandon. They are smart and curious and open and fun and, at this point, I'm kind of nursing a crush on the entire readership. It's what every community of readers should be. Of course, a few of these choice bloggers induced me to go beyond that first dare and see if I couldn't find the romances that are for me. And I have had such fun exploring. Which is why you've seen (and will likely continue to see) the occasional romance review pop up here. As with any genre, there is plenty that doesn't suit. But when I find a volume or author or series that does? It is the purest kind of literary enjoyment. So if you're looking for something in the way of a good love story and aren't sure where to look, might I direct you to a few of the blogs and authors that currently make up my go-to list? Feel free to return the favor with your own recommendations in the comments!

Blogs

Romance All the Time
Romance Around the Corner
The Book Barbies
The Book Binge
Smexy Books

Romance Some of the Time
Giraffe Days
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves
Medieval Bookworm

Authors 

Contemporary
Sarra Manning, Where to start: Unsticky (my review)
Kristan Higgins, Where to start: Catch of the Day (my review)

Historical
Courtney Milan, Where to start: The Governess Affair (my review)
Sarah MacLean, Where to start: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (my review)
Rose Lerner, Where to start: A Lily Among Thorns (my review)

Oh, and by the way--

Happy Valentines/Galentines/Anna Howard Shaw/Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day to you all!

32 comments:

  1. I feel so honored! Thank you, Angie.

    This is a lovely post that completely mirrors the way I feel not only about the genre, but about the community in general. Romance is one of the most prolific genres out there and has many, many readers around the world, yet the sense of community is very personal and almost intimate. Maybe because we read about love, friendship and relationships, we see a reflection of that in the way we interact with each other, and yes, there are dramas and weirdness, but in its core it’s a loving and supportive group of people.

    Some of my favorite blogs/bloggers --and these are the ones that come to mind now, but there are many more-- are:

    Jen (http://www.redhotbooks.com/)
    Rosario (http://rosario.blogspot.com/)
    Nat (http://natuschan.blogspot.com/)
    Kaetrin (http://kaetrinsmusings.blogspot.com.au/)

    And as I said, many, many more ;-)

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    1. My pleasure, Brie. I adore your site.

      And that is how it feels exactly, like an intimate, worldwide community. I love it. Thank you so much for the recs. Rosario's is the only one I've been to. I'm excited to go check the others out.

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  2. I love all those blogs! (And thank you for including moi!) I really love Drunk Author Talk (which has been renamed, but I'm sticking with the old name), which is a group of romance writers who blog together - http://drunkwritertalk.blogspot.com/ Lots of smarts on that blog.

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    1. Yay! We have such similar taste, I get all jumpy when I see a review of a romance you loved because 9 times out of 10 I'll be picking it up later that day.

      I think I may have stumbled across Drunk Author Talk a time or two in the past but forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder. I'll be sure to go back.

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  3. Lovely, lovely post Angie. I pretty much have all the wonderful blogs you mention as my favorites for finding the next gem in romance, including yours ;) Speaking of which, I'm actually reading UNSTICKY - finally available for the kindle in US! yay! - at this very moment based on your fabulous review from two years ago. :)

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    1. Thanks, Negine! They're great blogs, aren't they? I am so glad I found them.

      YOU ARE READING UNSTICKY!?!! Oh my goodness. Okay. Be sure to let me know what you think. This is so exciting!!

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  4. I read my first romance on the insistence of Alea and up until that point I didn't have any feelings towards the genre, I was completely indifferent, and then I finished the book and I can't explain how amazing I found it that there was this whole other corner of the internet just as passionate about romance books as I was about YA. I think sometimes we box ourselves into our own little niche which means that we're blind to all these other genres which is so silly to me now but at the time I just never knew these kind of blogs existed. and you are totally right, they're so full of unbridled enthusiasm that you can't help but get excited along with them. and I know that when I want to be recommended a book romance, there are good blogs and amazing people I can turn to and know they will steer me in the right direction.

    just think, if it wasn't for you, how would I know the literary enjoyment of jennifer cruise or sarra manning?

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    1. Did you really? I wondered when and which one you read first. I think you're right. So much of the draw for me was that passion that mirrored my own for YA and scifi/fantasy. Their enthusiasm is infectious for sure. I absolutely adore that.

      I have difficulty imagining my life with no UNSTICKY or BET ME. *shudders*

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  5. Thank you for writing this love letter, Angie!

    So glad I read through the comments and saw Negine mention UNSTICKY's availability in the US in digital format. It's been on my list since you wrote that stellar review some time ago, as well! I'm off to click on it now!

    xo

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    1. Oh, Christine. I can't wait to hear what you think!! Read it SOOOOOOON.

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  6. I'm so glad you've discovered romances that suit you--I've definitely found that, in this genre in particular, sometimes I have to slog through some pretty disappointing books before I find the ones that suit me. But when I do find those ones, I'm a total goner. And I think it's interesting that romance novel preferences can seem so much more personal than in other genres. I find I'm more likely to disagree with people on romances than any other genre, just because what each of us wants out of a romance seems to be so much more specific to our own lives than with other books.

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    1. You are so right. They're incredibly more personal than other genres. Just the slightest aspect can set one reader off and win another over. You said it perfectly, Karen. :)

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  7. Romance readers are amongst the most passionate out there! They know what they love, they are prepared to promote their favourite authors, they are loyal to those authors and the genre, but often they also read outside of the genre as well! They are smart and funny and many of them don't fit the stereotype at all. Of course, I do fit the stereotype in many ways, but I am pretty much okay with that!

    Rosario was one of the people who inspired me to start my blog, The Book Binge girls are lots of fun, Kaetrin just upset my reading schedule last night (and she is just as lovely in person as she seems on her blog!)

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    1. This knowing what they want thing kills me. It's so empowering and freeing.

      I lost track of Rosario some time back but I am definitely getting back on track now! What book did Kaetrin upset your schedule with??

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    2. Addiction by Charlotte Stein. I was planning to read something completely different on Friday night but she made it sound so good I had to read it right then! And it was worth it.

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    3. Oh my goodness. I read it, too! O_O

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  8. *raising my glass* Sing it!

    One of the best parts of the romance reading community is that--with few and far between exceptions--even when we passionately disagree on specific books, authors and/or tropes, we are able to still love talking about those differences, and that sooner or later we'll find at least that one title we both love.

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    1. Woo-hoo!

      Yes, exactly. Those ones that cut a wide swath through the romance readership are gems. That's part of what I loved about NINE RULES TO BREAK so much.

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  9. I love that you're reading more romances, Angie, because that means I get to discover more authors and series through your reviews. I should read more romance novels because I'm a big fan of love stories. Thanks for providing a list of blogs to check out, I'm aware of some of them but haven't heard of the others.

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    1. Yay! Mutually beneficial then. It can be touch and go, but no more so than any other genre. I wish I'd realized that a long time ago. :)

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  10. Oh, this post made me smile so much! Back when I first started reading romance but didn't blog, I lurked at the Smart Bitches blog probably almost daily. I just loved the whole community with their sense of humor and their ability to embrace the genre while still acknowledging its flaws. I totally credit them - and my one friend I had at the time who introduced me to romance - with my ability to be proud of my love of romance novels, despite censure and raised eyebrows when people see the "smart girl" is reading romance instead of Tolstoy. I hope you continue to discover more romance and what works for you! (Excellent list, by the way! Courtney Milan and Kristan Higgins are two of my favorites.)

    Also, thank you so much for the mention! ♥ I'm glad you enjoy our blog.

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    1. Aw, I'm glad it made you smile, Sharon. I'm glad I wasn't the only lurker over at SBTB. It is definitely that embracing while accepting the flaws that reeled me in. So open. So smart. Yay for Milan and Higgins. Which of theirs are your favorites?

      I discovered your blog at just the right time. So glad I did!

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    2. Nope. I still lurk there frequently, except now I actually comment sometimes! And habitually listen to the DBSA podcasts.

      Ooh, good question. Just One of the Guys is my favorite Higgins (although I love every single one of hers I've read...which would be the vast majority of them). As for Milan, I would probably have to say Unraveled (I would read the first 2 in the series first, though). But Proof by Seduction would probably run a close second.

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    3. Nice. I've read the Turner series. I think the third is my favorite as well. Though I still have a soft spot for Ash in book 1. I haven't read Proof by Seduction, though. I think I'll bump it up now!

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  11. Thank you so much for mentioning me! I'm honored. :) I completely agree with you on the romance community. I read romances first when I was younger, and then stopped for a while, mainly because I went to college and I was embarrassed. How amazing it was to discover there was SO many readers just like me - and I'm no longer ashamed to be a romance reader in the slightest, freely pushing books on others. :D Excellent post and perfect timing!

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    1. I've loved your blog for awhile now, Meghan. Your eclecticism and intelligence delights me. That's so interesting re: college and stopping reading romances for a period. I can totally see that, especially given the pressure to read only canonical or "high-brow" texts during that period in one's life. I'm glad you read romances again. Thanks for all the bookpushing. :)

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  12. Thanks so much for including me on your list, Angie! Makes me feel like I'm playing with the "big girls" ha ha.

    Loved reading this, Angie. I resisted romance for the longest time, mostly because my family are big on teasing (especially teasing me) and my older sisters were always such huge influences on me, whether I realised it or not, and they would have been merciless if they'd caught me reading "real" romance! Yet I craved it so much, like it could fill my soul up to the brim and spill over. Jane Eyre in grade 6 was probably the start, and I loved fantasy that had a bit of romance in it (yet I craved more), but it took me until, when, 2007? when a friend recommended Twilight and I loved it and thought screw what my sisters think, I love romance! Okay and it helped that they were a really long way away! But I'm older now and I can own up to loving romance without a cringe of snobbery or shame, and that's huge progress for me. :D It frees me up to think of why romance appeals etc., which is such a fascinating topic I find.

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    1. My pleasure, Shannon. I love how widely you read and always get some great romance recs from you.

      Thank you so much for sharing how you came to read (and love) romance. I find reader paths fascinating, and I totally understand about not wanting to be judged for what you read. I've loved a little romance in my fantasy ever since I read my first Robin McKinley book. Like you, it took me a long time to realize I wanted more . . . and to strike out and find it! Book shaming makes me want to vomit. No one should be made to feel bad about the books they crave and/or choose to read.

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    2. Shannon, I do believe we are kindred spirits! My history with romance is nearly identical. Well I don't have any sisters, but I would say my friends had (have!) the same attitude towards reading romance. Even my husband looks down on it, but I say, hey! You knew very well you were marrying a romantic.. what the heck did you think I'd read 50-75% of the time I pick up a book?! Twilight was my gateway romance novel, too.

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    3. Christine, I had no idea you had a similar history with romance. And Twilight was your gateway book, too?! Awesome. You always seem so happily at home with your reading. I admire that about you. And you have excellent taste as well. Boo to people in your life looking down on your reading! We only live once. We have to read what makes us happy. I'm so glad I found my way to reading romances. At this point in my life, they definitely make me happy.

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  13. Okay and all the mentions of Unsticky in the comments has got me intrigued, so much enthusiasm! I can't resist that kind of thing.

    Oh and for romance recommendations I turn to you, Marg and Bree (All the Books I Can Read).

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    1. HOLD THE PHONE.

      You have not read Unstick yet?? Oh my word, you are going to *love* it! Definitely locate a copy ASAP.

      Off to go check out All the Books I Can Read!

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