Reading Romance for the First Time

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I have never been one for romance. I don’t read romance novels, and I prefer the literary fiction I read to be light on the love. Call me a cynic, but boy-meets-girl stories usually just make me feel eye-roll-y. But one of my reading resolutions for this year is to read more diversely. I intended this to mean I would read more literature by people who aren’t white Americans, but it SHOULD also mean trying out genres I’m unfamiliar with. When I learned about the Literary Love event, I decided it was the perfect time to try reading a romance novel! I can’t TELL you how far out of my comfort zone this was, but I did it!

I’m a long-time listener of The Bookrageous Podcast (It’s so great; if you aren’t already listening to it, you need to go download a few episodes right about now. I promise you’ll be hooked), and one of the hosts, Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot, has recently been dabbling in romance, herself. Her endorsements of Sarah MacLean’s books made me really interested — mostly because she promised that MacLean doesn’t use silly words for body parts. I may be willing to try reading romance, but I can’t handle bad euphemisms like “throbbing member.”

A Rogue by Any Other NameSo. I took the plunge and bought an e-copy of A Rogue by Any Other Name, the first book in the Rule of Scoundrels series. (It was only $4!) And I had thoughts about it.

Okay, so we’ve got Penelope, a 28-year-old woman in 1830s England. Many years before, her fiance threw her off for a love match, and it was the HUGEST scandal. She’s now close to becoming a spinster, and her father is desperate for her to get married. To entice the menfolk, he adds an important estate to her dowry — an estate that had belonged to Penelope’s childhood friend, Michael Bourne, until he lost it gambling as a young man.

Bourne, now a co-owner of London’s most exclusive gaming hell (yes, hell), is desperate to get his estate back, and he’s willing to go to any lengths to restore it. He essentially forces Penelope to marry him, threatening her with ruination if she doesn’t. The two marry, but time has changed their relationship; their childhood friendship is long gone. Bourne has been hardened by the world and refuses to see their marriage as anything but a business transaction. Penelope, who at 28 is still hoping for a love match, is unhappy with her greatly changed, destructive husband.

Of course, the couple has some steamy sexy times, and they actually get to know each other again, and their sham of a marriage transforms into a beautiful, passionate one.

Alrighty. Thoughts. I didn’t care much for the writing style. Things like this tend to make me giggle and roll my eyes and remember this REALLY emo guy I knew in college:

“She hadn’t looked away until he had turned onto the main road.

He knew because he’d watched her, too.

She’d been his friend.

When he’d still believed in friends.

I just can’t take it seriously. But how seriously are you supposed to take a romance novel? Writing like that turned me off, but I’ve gotta say the sex writing was pretty good. (I may or may not be blushing as I write this.) Like Rebecca says, there are no silly euphemisms, and there wasn’t anything that made me feel squirmy, like I sometimes come across in literary fiction. (I’m looking at you, Murakami.)

I also really liked MacLean’s portrayal of her heroine. Penelope is smart, brave, and witty. After being dumped by her fiance, she refused four more suitors, holding out for the love she believed she deserved. She knows what she wants, and she’s willing to wait for it. I also loved the way she stood up to Bourne’s jerk-facedness at the beginning of her marriage. Now that she’s married, and married to such a scandalous man, she wants to live a life of adventure. I thought it was pretty kick-ass, and I enjoyed reading about such a strong woman in the Victorian era setting.

At the same time, though, I got really annoyed with Bourne. Like, why do you have to be such a jerk? You can’t even entertain the POSSIBILITY that your marriage doesn’t have to be a miserable thing? Give it a chance, you used to be friends, there’s no reason for you to hate each other! UGH.

So, uh, there you have it. I’m glad I tried reading romance, but it confirmed my belief that it’s not really my thing. It was a fun romp, but it turns out I’m too much of a snob to fully enjoy it. I may read some more Sarah MacLean occasionally, but I don’t think it’s going to become part of my regular reading.

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21 thoughts on “Reading Romance for the First Time

  1. Hahah this review would in my eyes fit a lot of the romance books just change the names. I do like it a bit better when the woman is a strong character. Often they start out strong but end up swooning and fainting and forgetting they have an opinion of their own. Enjoy your next, probably less romantic, read!

  2. I recently read A Spear of Summer Grass, which is the closest I’ve come to full on romance and it left me rolling my eyes. That’s not to say i didn’t like parts of it, it’s just that sometimes in romance they lay it on kind of think. But good on you for giving it a try!

    • Haha thanks! Just pick something short then? Then at least if you don’t like it, you won’t have wasted much time. This was 400 pages, but it was a pretty quick read.

  3. One of my favorite “romance” authors is Diana Gabaldon — I use that term loosely because her epic Outlander series is a whole lot more than just romance, but the first book in particular is pretty heavy on that aspect of the story. Like you, I really hate all the ridiculous euphemisms and “regular” romance novels usually make me roll my eyes as well — I could probably count on one hand the number of “heaving bosom” books (as my aunt likes to call them) I’ve read on one hand. Anyway, I always thought Gabaldon wrote her sex scenes really well, so I found it really interesting to read her own perspective on the subject when she wrote a post on her blog about it. Her main point is that a sex scene is really about an exchange of emotion (and she doesn’t mean that is a sappy “love is all sunshine and roses” way). I think her approach is a very successful one that avoids the eye-roll-inducing pitfalls found in other romances. Plenty of people think she has too much sex in her books, but they’re like 1000 pages long each! And since they are well-written, it doesn’t bother me one bit.

  4. I thought I was the only woman who dislikes romance novels. Most romance novels portray relationships that are unrealistic. Also, most characters in romance novels are one dimensional. I find Austen’s works to be boring. However, I agree that it is important to break out of one’s comfort zone and explore different genres. I will try to read a romance novel this year. I have been planning to reading more science fiction and mystery. I will add romance to that.

  5. Oh I know what you mean. When I found out my mother-in-law named my husband after a character in a romance novel, I had to check it out. It’s The Flame and the Flower by Woodiwiss. The Brandon character is a ship captain and has it in mind to take advantage of a beautiful girl on his ship, so he does. When I asked her, “so, you basically named him after a rapist?” She said, “Oh, no! They fall in love by the end,” which I knew because I had read it, but still. A victim falling in love with her rapist? My husband has not lived it down from my end! haha!

  6. Wow. You went WAY romanc-y. I’ve read a lot of romance novels in my lifetime but they weren’t ones with these types of covers. They were more Jane Green/Nora Roberts’y. I suppose that makes them more Chick Lit than Romance (is there a difference? I don’t know). So I can see why you couldn’t take it seriously.

    But good for you for trying!

  7. I’m a fan of romance, but I have to say I haven’t read so many historical romances (only a number short stories and a couple of novels). In my opinion, all this romances are more or less the same, and you get bored in the end of those heroines who are really “modern” women set in an historical period.
    I think that now that you know the “classic” romance fiction, you should try with some contemporary romance, such as a novel by Nicholas Sparks, maybe 😉 What do you say?

  8. I applaud you for trying! i read some romance novels in high school but i have never been much into them. I need more depth in my reading and i find all romance novels pretty cookie cutter. Boy meets girl, girl turns him away or for some reason he turns her away, they undergo some mutual misfortune or he saves her (extra yuck!) and they find in the silver rays of moonlight a burning urge that must be love. what drives me mad, though, is that people act like this is what women want and the only women’s literature; and even madder that this is all women write!!!! I think it is good that, unlike those jerks who write off all women writers, you kept an open mind and gave it another go, even if that go wasn’t especially pleasing.

  9. I think it’s wonderful that you gave romance a try! I’ve read one book that really falls into the romance genre and I actually enjoyed it a lot, but I also got a strong feeling that every book by the author was going to be the exact same thing. Since part of the appeal for me was the novelty of trying out a romance novel, I haven’t been in a hurry to pick more up, but it something I might try again in the future. Great review! Very fun 🙂

  10. Hmm I don’t think I’ve ever read a straight-up romance either. I’ve read chick lit and I’ve read New Adult, but one of those paperback romance novels with Fabio on the cover? Nope. I think that, like you, I’d be a little too cynical for it. The writing does sound kind of absurd, and even though I enjoy a good well-written sex scene, I’m not sure that this kind of romance is for me. Oh well. Maybe I’ll take a dive into the genre at some point, though. Diversifying is always good.

  11. I love this SO much, and I applaud you for jumping into some romance reading. There have been some series I’ve liked over the years and some authors in particular. Maybe I’ll pick one of these up the next time I need a quick, involving, naughty read.

  12. Pingback: Weekly Wrap-Up (#22) |

  13. I’d definitely try Jennifer Crusie for some contemporary stuff. Anyone But You and Bet Me are both really fun.

    As for historical, I’d try Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Our heroine is plucky, assertive, and strong.

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