Say, in your typical romance novel, both a male and female go through some sort of trauma that leaves them feeling unable to recover. Besides saying something weird about being broken, how else are they going to describe themselves?
9 times out of 10, the guy will say he “cannot love.”
There are variations of it, all absurd.
1) He can’t love
2) There is no such thing as love
and my favorite: 3) Love is just a series of chemicals/synapses in your brain.
It’s like they went through the scientific method to come to this conclusion. Some kind of if, then, therefore statement:
I have not loved in the past.
I can’t see myself changing in the future.
Therefore, I will not love in the future.
Therefore, I cannot love.
It sounds like the same bullshit rationalization that led scientists to only JUST NOW believe that dogs love their owners, now that they have proof.
These heroes have friends, relatives, and others that they love. But they do not Love and therefore can’t love.
This is the kind of catnip that is made for romance novels, because it is a problem that’s not a problem. It’s an easily disproven theory. A hero saying he “cannot love” is basically throwing down the gauntlet for the heroine and her magical love-creating hoohoo.
Have you ever noticed that romance heroines have a similar, but different problem? What they got is the dreaded F word, and I don’t mean fuck.
UGH. Guys who can’t love may be one of my favorite plot lines, and frigid women are my least favorite.
The word “frigid” in general smacks of all sort of patriarchal misogynistic nastiness. The word is so tightly wrapped up in negative connotations, it’s meaningless without them.
Not all stories that deal with a frigid woman use the word “frigid,” but you know that’s what they are talking about, when a woman says she is broken, and a man tries to convince her that it’s not true. This “convincing” is usually a consent minefield. Is he forcing her to come to terms with her sexuality? Is that moral? Is that kind? What if she really doesn’t have a sex drive? Would that be so bad?
In romances, women are afraid to feel sexually. They may even have blocked that part of them from themselves. Many books explore sexual discovery, but do the frigid storylines have to make the heroine to explore it so forcefully? It gets a little…icky.
The Can’t Love Heroes, on the other hand, have to deal with an emotional battlefield, which puts women on the offensive. These heroines are tearing down mental blocks like giant petticoated Hulks. Their message is “I will love you, dammit, until you figure it out. Or we die. Whichever comes first.”
I can’t help but notice how immediately and completely heroines internalize their frigidity, while men manage to readjust the world by their compartmentalization. I can’t love. It’s just not in me. versus I’m afraid to feel. What’s wrong with me?
My friend Ilana and I have decided to start our own podcast about… wait for it… Romance novels!
with Wendy and Ilana
Episode 01’s page here.
It’s a book club of sorts. We will be talking about a particular book while drinking drinks. Get it? We will be getting literary, while literally getting lit! *Nudge nudge wink wink*
Today we talked about the book Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Ilana made up her own drink, and called it The Tableau Vivante, in reference to a special type of magic from the book. I just went with my go-to cocktail, the Negroni
Ilana’s Fancy Drink
Ilana’s Drink: The Tableau Vivante.
1.5 oz gin
1 oz pear snapps
1/4 cup club soda
1/2 cup ginger ale
1 maraschino cherry for garnish
shake up in a cocktail shaker for fanciness.
Wendy’s Drink: Negroni
Two parts gin
1 part Campari
1 part red vermouth (I use the brand Dolin)
Stir in chilled glass. Add one of those big ass ice cubes. Twist an orange peel over the drink and add to drink for extra flavor.
Other books we talked about:
- Mate Bond by Jennifer Ashley
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
- The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
- The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Perserverence and Hope in Troubled Times by Paul Rogat Loeb
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
- Charles Dickens
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- The Bronte Sisters (generally)
- Heart Shaped Hack by Tracey Garvis-Graves
- Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Also, there’s a specific section for Wendy’s Rants, this one titled:
It’s Not Stalking If He’s Sexy
Book we will read next time is The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley.
Next podcast slated to happen…sometime.
In the near future.
2-4 weeks from now.
PS: Please excuse the shuffling sound! My dog was restless and she kept moving my laptop. Also, if anyone has any pointers on how to record two people in different states at the same time please share. Our current mode is not ideal, but works in a pinch. Total budget is about $20.
Why I love Audiobooks
I love audiobooks. Mostly because:
There are only about five Nationally Recognized Corporation Approved artists that cycle the pop hits lists anyway. I can’t tell the difference between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and whatever other recent addition to the girl pop star crowd. Which only makes it worse that…
I listen too hard.
If I hear a song one too many times, I start to try to make sense of the words, which is a futile attempt when it comes to pop songs. How can someone “fall into the sky”? That’s an annoying girlfriend, not a Black Widow. And who, by God, can possibly justify putting the emphasis on “tion” in the word “UncondiTIONal”??? That is the least important syllable in that word.
My own music is old.
I don’t care enough to update my music, so I will be literally listening to the same shit I listened to since college. And, how many times do you need to listen to the same song, really? Such a waste of time! I’d much rather learn or hear something new.
Audiobooks are great for trying new genres.
Just like a music rut, people can also get into a book reading rut, where they only read from a specific genre. I like to try new things, but I can’t for the life of me get myself to read something that I don’t immediately love. Even books that I enjoy but are not enthralling end up being a chore to slog through till the end. I’m a one book kinda girl, so I’ve spent a couple months reading one book that I didn’t even like.
Audiobooks, though, are great for books you can’t quite get into. Usually, I am doing something while reading an audiobook, so I am not exactly “wasting time.” For some reason, crappy writing doesn’t bother me as much if I am listening to audiobooks. Not sure why. I’ve read quite a few books that were really good, but I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I read it in book form.
And the browsing!
In prementioned book rut, a person might go to the same familiar area of the library each time. I like the limited selection that comes with CD audiobook perusing. They are all lumped together.
Have you ever noticed how often everyone takes their phones out while watching TV? TV is not engaging enough to capture your whole attention. I have a theory it’s because you don’t have to use your mind to picture what’s going on. Then, with commercials, you have completely lost me. I find myself playing games on my phone, aimlessly looking at Facebook, or getting something to eat. What the point of entertainment that doesn’t really entertain?
Audiobooks are so much more involved, with deeper plotlines, more in-depth characters, and fun, fantastical worlds that activate your imagination. I’ve found myself reading an audiobook instead of watching TV a lot lately. Most of the time, if I’m not doing anything else, I will play a game on my phone while I listen, but sometimes I get so involved, I don’t even do that.
Audiobooks have the engagement of a paper book, but you don’t have sit down and dedicate time to them.
I have found that I can listen to audiobooks most of the time while I work. Since I do a lot of graphic design and web design, I have (another) theory that my pictures brain can be engaged while my words brain can listen elsewhere and be sucked into the magical world of an audiobook. The only thing I can’t do while listening to audiobooks is write or do heavy problem solving. Low engagement tasks like data entry, however, are excellent with audiobooks.
So, basically, I listen to audiobooks when I drive, work, clean, exercise, play games, and sometimes for fun. That’s pretty much all day. A typical audiobook is about 10-20 hours, so, if I like it, I can knock out a book in a day or two. That’s a pretty fantastic turnaround, considering that even if I like a book, I don’t usually finish a paper version faster than a couple weeks. Add to the fact that I also read paper books when time permits, I can put away quite a few books in a month. Which leads me to one of the things I have been doing for a while now…
Here are some essential things about me: 1) I like to try new things 2) I like to set myself massive, near impossible goals 3) I hate choosing and 4) I like documenting my progress.
All these culminated into the birth of The Challenge.
It started when the CD player in my car broke. I couldn’t get audiobooks on CD player anymore, so I finally tried out OverDrive.
OverDrive lets you check out audiobooks through an app on your phone, just a simple download and then you have them for 14 days. No going into the library, no late fees, etc.
OverDrive is useful, but it has some problems. It has thousands of books, but just kinda random ones. It can have book 3, 4, 27, and 32 of a series, but no others. It has some of the popular ones, but not all. I think it has to do with your library’s subscription. There are also waiting lists for many books.
The worst thing about OverDrive, though, is that it kinda hard to browse. You can look by subject, but it’s just not the same experience as a real person library.
When faced with a whole lot of random books I’ve never heard of only sorted by subject, I thought to myself, “well, I guess I’ll just read them all.”
The first goal I set was to read all the Regency Romance novels. I sorted by author and started at A. Well, I finished them all. So, now I have The Challenge.
Read all audiobooks in the romance subject category of OverDrive.
There are 1,215 audiobooks in OverDrive right now. They are constantly updating, but I guess they get rid of some too.
Of course, now that I have a goal, I also came up with limitations.
- Sort by author, and work through the whole catalog from A to Z.
- Try each author once. If I don’t like the book, I can skip the other books by that author.
- Make a valiant effort, however, to give the author a chance, if possible. Trying another book from another a different series is a good example.
- Subgenres I’m allowed to skip: Christian, YA, Amish, and some Contemporary.
- When looking for new books, start at A to see if there are any new additions.
- When I finish a book, I can change the GoodReads listing to “read” and write a review.
- Books consider “read” need to be at least half finished. If I give up on the book before then, I can skip the author, but I can’t count the book as “read.”
I’m right now on the letter F.
This time around I am focusing on Paranormal Romance, but will also read other subgenres if they don’t look too boring. I am least in love with mystery romance, chick lit, and contemporary, but I’ve read some good ones from those so I’m willing to try.
To check out my list of have-reads, take a look at my 2016 Book List.
Epilogues and Christmas specials always remind me that women are ruthless tyrants when it comes to romantic fantasies.
It’s not enough that they fall in love. It’s not enough that they overcome ridiculous odds to be together, strip away considerable emotional baggage to be together, grow into the people they were meant to be. It’s not enough that he owes his allegiance to her for patching together his broken soul. It’s not enough that we are in their minds through narration, hearing their devotion and love at every breath. It’s not even enough when, such as in paranormal romance, they are chemically unable to stray or stop loving their partner for the rest of their long lives thanks to some mystical matebond.
We want our happily ever after, dammit. And by happy we mean blissfully, perfectly, irrevocably
The human female, suspicious by nature, is not going to stop at a wedding scene to make sure that this couple is actually a good match. Nooooo….. we want epilogues. We want her to be big and ugly pregnant and him still attracted to her. We want reassurance that love didn’t dissipate, they haven’t come across hardship, everyone is well and hearty, and his devotion to her only grows every day.
Show me a romance novel with an epilogue that says “…And they lived happily ever after. Until she died from childbirth, and he wasted away from syphilis left over from his rakish youth, which he, by the way, passed on to his children. The End.”
No change in feeling, unless that euphoric love he felt has increased over the years.
Because love isn’t love if it dies when the passion fades. And the story isn’t just about love: it’s about the couple becoming partners. If they loved each other but were actually kind of terrible at working together, then all of it would be for nothing. So many things can go wrong in a relationship, so, dammit, give me the exact perfect ending that shows what their life will be like from here on out.
That’s what I think when I read those overly saccharine epilogues. ABSOLUTE FEALTY. TAKE NO PRISONERS. You have him for life, now run with it!
No romance novel ever explores the possibility that the woman could fall out of love. These men are physically incapable of ever altering their state, but the women are free agents, just normal human women. The assumption, I suppose, is that by making the man a prisoner of his own love for her, man and woman are on equal ground.
It reminds me a of a Sex in the City episode where they talk about how men ready to married are taxis with their lights on. Miranda asks “what about women?” and Charlotte says “I guess our lights are always on.”
I don’t believe that’s true, but I believe that romance novels perpetuate that stereotype. How else would a teenage girl get paired with a hundred year old vampire?
The way I see it, literature is fiction that challenges your beliefs, your perspective, and makes you think about things in a different light.
Hack fiction just reaffirms your own beliefs.
Escapism reaffirms your own beliefs, but not just that. It is a hyped up remix of your beliefs, hopes, and desires into one ridiculous, self-indulgent package.
Christmas Specials, I believe, are Escapism Plus.
First of all, there is such a sub-genre called Christmas Romance, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those series romances, whether they be paranormal, contemporary, regency or other, with a novel stuck somewhere in the chronology that happens during Christmas.
I’ve read two of these books before: Winter Moon by Dannika Dark, and A MacKenzie Family Christmas by Jennifer Ashley. They seem to be a protracted form of epilogue, with a healthy dash of Christmas fuzzy feeling. You usually see characters that have already gotten together live out their humdrum, blissfully happy lives. The conflict is never about the couples (because we settled that, remember? Blissfully happy or DEATH), but instead is some inconsequential thing that could be solved a lot faster if we didn’t spend so much time watching their humdrum lives, which is a bunch of kissing of babies, and cuddling, and married people sex.
It all kinda feels sort of pointless, because there is no conflict, not really. It’s just a quick reunion with your favorite characters. You pull them out of the drawer, shake off the dust, feel the warm fuzzies you felt when finished the book they came from, fold them up and put them away. There might be some kind of conflict started, or hinted at, with new characters, but nothing is definite.
Mostly, it’s like that scene in X-Men that we always love. You know, the one where the X-Men kids use their powers for everyday stuff? We see our favorite characters putting up Christmas trees and picking out presents. Celebrities do everyday things too!
I am a fan of the X-Men scenes, I tolerate epilogues, but Christmas Specials I can take or leave. Just like other self indulgences, the sticky sweetness of the novel sometimes gives me a tummy ache.
Unless, of course, there is a SHIFTER SANTA CLAUS.
Author: Dannika Dark
Series: Seven #7.5
Tags: paranormal romance, shifter, Christmas, SHIFTER SANTA CLAUS
In the tradition of Christmas specials, this little book has absolutely no conflict.
All of the characters have already been brought together, so everyone’s fine. It’s just a little reunion of your favorite characters to make you go, “dawwwwww I remember them!”
Also, SHIFTER SANTA CLAUS. With absolutely no explanation. Just a cheerful older shifter bestoying a treatured gift in the nick of time.
Add this to another one of those times that I am listening to audiobooks in my cubicle at work, and I very quietly and SUDDENLY GET EXTREMELY EXCITED for the most ridiculous of reasons. It involves a lot of me whipping my head around and mouthing words for a minute or so.
I believe in Shifter Santa Claus….
This week in shitty books I read:
Rule, by Jane Crownover
Highlights: A Man Named ESPN3.
Read review here.
Highland Velvet, Jude Deveraux
Highlights: I WILL Go John Wick on Your Ass.
Read review here.
Bear Necessities, Dana Marie Bell
Highlights: More Sexy Than Complex-y, Superman Syndrome
Read review here.
Title: Bear Necessities
Author: Dana Marie Bell
Sub-genre: Shifters. Werebears!
How ridiculous is this title? I have had Bear Necessities stuck in my head for the past month because of this book. It just gets worse, by the way. Here are some more titles from this series:
2.5) Bear With Me
3) Bear Naked
And, how great is it that it is a pun? I’ve already gone through all of the OverDrive audiobooks to find all the books about dukes, and then to read all the books that are Regency. What if my next thing is to read all the books with puns for titles? Regency romance in particular is pretty great about using puns for their titles. See Sarah Maclean: Scot in the Dark. Every Good Earl Deserves a Lover. The Rogue Not Taken. Need I go on?
So, pun for a title? Check.
Trying to make something sexy, all the while getting a Disney song by a cheerful but slovenly bear stuck in readers’ heads? Check.
Besides the pun, there was only one more reason why I picked up this book.
Werebears, or bear shapeshifters, crack me up. I prefer the term werebears because it sounds silly and rhymes. In the shifter novels I’ve read, werebears are usually the jolly giants of the shapeshifter community. While wolves and wildcats are often mired in shifter politics, pack politics, weird rituals, and angst enough to hit the broad side of barn, werebears are somewhat set apart from the drama. They participate, backup when needed, but are generally less drama than all that hierarchy bullshit that goes on in shifter novels. They are usually big, bearded, and cheerfully no-nonsense. Think Little John from Robin Hood. Or, I guess, Baloo.
More Sexy Than Complex-y
As much as I love werebears, I have to admit that I skimmed this book. It was, shall we say, More Sexy Than Complex-y. More Hotty Than Plot-y. In short, it wasn’t that great.
I’ve been toying with ideas to better quantify the smuttiness of romance novels. The romance novel to erotica spectrum is not very clearly delineated, and I think it would help the female population to know! There are visual cues by the cover, of course, standards in particular sub-genres that you come to expect, but you never really know what you are getting into until you start reading.
One of my latest theories is to make an XY graph of Kinkiness and Frequency of smuttiness. I could predetermine it so I don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty each time I want to tell you how smutty this book is.
I would give this book a C4 on my hypothetical graph, I think. Which is pretty standard for shifter novels, if not a teensy bit on the high end. You will never know what that means, probably.
Bitches Always Be Mate Claiming
Also, what’s with the mate determination in this series? Apparently, each shifter has one mystical “mate” for them in the world, a sci-fi take on the whole One True Love story. Pretty standard, but with this one, the two characters knew that they were each others’ mates before they even saw each other. He just walked into the tattoo shop where she worked, and he was like “my mate’s in here behind the curtain.” And she was like “my mate’s out there.” And then they were mated. That easy, huh? Boring.
So what is it? Smell? Pheromones? Some kind of mystical gut feeling? Obviously not sight. And then you don’t fight against it at all? It’s just smooth sailing from here on out?
Even though this is the first of the bear series, it’s building off of a previous series of the characters in the same town, so I’m guessing I missed the initial explanation of how that whole thing works.
Silly me for wanting some actual romancing in my romance novels. Not much in the back and forth of figuring each other out here.
This series has a bad case of the Superman Syndrome. You know how Superman is kind of boring because he’s just so invincible? Too many superpowers, too much strength, too much resilience. I mean, it’s so hard to create conflict when the only people who can take him down are the few left from his stupid dead planet.
Magic of all kinds is fun, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes magic puts the plot at risk by making things just a little too easy for the characters. The mate theory in this book is so easy, it kind of takes the fun out of the book.
I probably won’t seek out any more of Dania Marie Bell’s books, unless I somehow come across them in audiobook form.
Until then, look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worry and your strife…
ONTO THE NEXT BOOK!