I've been catching up on podcasts and I just listened to The Female Gaze episode four which is about romance novels. I basically grew up on whatever's in my mother's bookshelves and that includes trashy romance novels, self-help books, and a handful of kids' books that are super old. I think I read them way too early, because in one of the earliest I've read, I completely didn't understand the sex scene ("He entered her." I was like wtf?!?) and it was also a bit rapey as in she was into it but not consenting and that was super strange to me. Anyway I lent it to my best friend and I never got it back, because apparently her parents burned it. Whoa harsh much?
My parents never really censored my reading material. Aside from scolding me a lot for reading books in family gatherings and basically all of my free time, they were pretty indulgent of my addiction. I think I jumped in head first on those harlequin, silhouette novels and then sort of took a step back and read some young adult ones that my peers were reading, you know, Sweet Dreams and the Sweet Valley series and all of that. I have read a lot of these things, but some of them I cannot for the life of me remember. (I started writing a list of everything I've ever read in my whole life and there are a lot of missing books because romance novels are so hard to find based on plot, since there's just too much being written, and plots get recycled all the time.)
So anyway, what can I say about them that hasn't been said before? I don't actually read them for porn. (I have other books for that.) But my favourite romance novels are angsty stuff. I think that might be one thing they do better than fanfic is to be able to have just the right balance of angsty and catharthic, though it also depends on the writer. I read all kinds from contemporary to regency to magical. So my favourite ones are a mixed bag. A caveat: these are all het romances. There aren't that many l/g romances for me to rec.
1. Sea Swept by Nora Roberts - I've talked about this before in my list of 100 books. I actually wouldn't mind not having romance in this because I am just in it for the father-son relationship between Cameron and Seth. And the relationship of the three brothers are also fascinating. It also gave me a desire to go to Maine and eat softshell crab sandwiches.
2. His Lady's Ransom by Merline Lovelace - I think it's set in the Richard Lionheart era. It's super angsty, full of misunderstandings as the woman is a twice-married widow so she's not like other "innocent" women in such romance novels. At one point, the woman manages to get the man chained up somewhere. Except he escapes... hahaha. It's super fun. I totally love it.
3. Nobody's Princess by Jennifer Green - A contemporary novel that has this scene where the girl, who is a teacher, talk about women in fairy tales and then the guy says his favourite is the one in Rumplestiltskin.
4. Cotillon by Georgette Heyer - I've since read other novels but this remains one of my favourite. I just like how you're not sure who she'll end up with. The other book that does that is Cousin Kate, but it's a weird one that reads less like a romance and more like a gothic novel. My other fave is Venetia, though.
5. The Urge to Jump by Trisha Ashley - The author herself admits that she was into satire when she wrote this. Her style is really odd for romance novels. I think her audience are women who are middle-aged and single and a bit bitter, because the pattern for her novels are the women always says they don't like the men up until the last second where they end up together anyway. Super weird. (I often read her other books for the food, basically.) But anyway, this one is just fun language, fun friendship and this dude who she happens to sleep with on weak moments. What really sells it for me is Sappho herself. She's amazing.
6. Blackwood Bride by Jasmine Cresswell - Mills and Boons. Older setting and sort of angst plus mystery kind of romance, where they like each other but can't show it, except they're already married because he married her for his inheritance except she was supposed to die... Must-read.
7. Fancy Pants by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - This book is epic. I love it for the transformation thing, where she starts out super rich, then just falls rock-bottom and climbs up through sheer grit. The guy's less interesting, and also, I hate golf. But lots of angst.
8. (Insert title and author because I don't remember) - A Western kinda romance where there are two guys, a former lawman and a gunslinger, and a girl who may or may not be named Kit. (The gunslinger is named Ty and he was supposed to be hanged but the lawman breaks him out of prison.) And they're sort of on a mission to go after some crimelord or something, and they go undercover. And the one dude thinks Ty and the girl are in love so he's ready to give up on his feelings but they're more like siblings, and Ty is actually in love with some girl who took him in when he was injured... God I wish I can find it.
9. The Bride by Julie Garwood - A highlander setting. I like it because of the way everything ties up together by the end. The structure is really what sold me.
10. Sea Spell by Abra Taylor - Angsty two broken people romance. Another contemporary one. It actually reminded me of another angsty beachside romance by Elizabeth Lowell called To the Ends of the Earth. I literally looked through dozens of Silhouette covers to find the title. (I remember the covers more.)
Um, books I have used as porn (which show that my tastes are utterly disturbing) are:
1. First Wives' Club by Olivia Goldsmith
2. Beauty's Release by Anne Rice
3. Taltos by Anne Rice
4. Goodbye, Janette by Harold Robbins
5. And lots and lots of fanfic