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Archive for June 2009

Oh, darling, you look so sexy in that parka!

Oh, darling, you look so sexy in that parka!

Line, Publication Date: Harlequin Romance, 1981
Cover Steaminess: 5. Classic clutch, but they’re both wearing parkas.
Back of Book Description: “For reporter Sarah Grey it was the assignment of a lifetime—accompany the supertanker Arctic Enterprise on her maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage. Despite the hazards involved she was determined to turn in the best story she’d ever written. But she hadn’t counted on opposition from the ruggedly stern Captain Guy Court. Sparks immediately flew between them. And Sarah soon realized the sparks were not all hostile ones…”
Flowery Language Quotient: Low, but that’s mostly because no one gets jiggy with it in this book. There’s a little bit of groping, but everyone’s wearing parkas when it happens. Least sexy romance novel ever!

Sarah Grey is a science reporter who has just finished an article on the cutting-edge topic of recycling. Oh, 1981. She goes to see her editor, who offers her the assignment accompanying the crew on the maiden voyage of the supertanker Arctic Enterprise, which is about the worst name for a ship ever. (I didn’t actually know what a supertanker was. I had to Google it. You’re welcome. I suspect this is only big news because this is pre-Exxon Valdez, you know?) Anyway, it seems the owner of the supertanker, Tony Freeland, has taken a liking to our young Sarah, because she is a romance heroine and so stunningly beautiful, so she’s a logical choice for the job, but her editor thinks it’s a dangerous assignment. Then there’s an infodump about the boat, zzz. The gist is that the purpose of the mission is to collect liquid natural gas from the arctic to fuel Canadian homes (Sarah seems to be stationed in Ottawa) and there’s been some debate in the press similar to the debate over ANWR a couple of years ago: it’s a valuable resource, but we might have to kill some cute animals to get at it. Read the rest of this entry »


Couple of quick links:

+ Contestant #2 in Jezebel’s Worst 80s Romance contest is this guy, described as “A cold, hard-hearted radiologist with control issues and a penchant for mind games!” The Mills & Boon (that’s British Harlequin to you) says, “Was he just being kind?” and I kind of want to know when “kind” became a synonym for “mean and manipulative.” Oh, 80s romance heroes. This one actually loses points for “lack of rapiness.”

+ Also from Jezebel are scans of this spread from People of (allegedly) the “hottest bachelors” done up as romance heroes. If Bret Michaels could please stay off the cover of any book I buy, that would be great.

I recently picked up Beyond Heaving Bosoms, which I think I’m just going to carry around in my purse all the time, so that when people ask me why I read romance novels, I can point to the preface and say, “This! This is why!”

In the first chapter, the Smart Bitches define Old Skool and New Skool romance. The former encapsulates books published in the mid-80s and earlier, and often features one of my least favorite character archetypes of the genre: the Brutal Rapey Hero. They write:

These heroes aren’t just determined, assertive, and confident—they’re hard, arrogant, and harsh and the heroine is often afraid of him. He’s a punisher as well as lover and protector, but he hurts her only because he loves her so much. Baby. Punitive kisses were dealt with abandon, and the heroine, after stiffening up and resisting, would eventually soften into his kiss—after all, who wouldn’t love having their lips mashed hard enough to leave bruises? And speaking of bruises: grabbing the heroine by the arms so hard they lave marks was another earmark of Old Skool heroes.

This is on the list of things I just Don’t Get. Maybe I’m just not the target audience, but, you know, there’s very little that offends me, but I do react especially negatively to any kind of sexual violence. I’ve read plenty of novels with punishing kisses and heroines getting flung against walls or the hoods of cars, and I just sit there puzzled, because I don’t find rape sexy at all. Did women in the 70s and 80s? Why did this become a trend?

Jezebel is having a Worst 80s Romance Heroes Contest, however, so we can sit back and analyze the books. They describe their first contestant as “a rapey, manipulative former footballer with a will of iron!” Nice, yeah?

I’m working on a recap of a 1981 Harlequin, and the hero has thus far not exhibited any rapist tendencies, so that’s something, I guess. The hero and heroine also haven’t gotten a lot of alone time (the whole book takes place on a boat) so that may change.

Speaking of violent heroes, Salon has an article up today about vampire fiction. This is not really my thing—I tried the first Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse books and didn’t care much for either—but these books are making their publishers a lot of money. And, well, we do kind of love Laurell K. Hamilton here at Books to the Sky.

Either I’m ahead of the curve, or the Baltimore City paper is getting to the party late, because they’re writing about the trend of women reading and writing m/m romance. Never mind that women have been writing romances (and, okay, porn) featuring two men since slash fiction was born in the late 60s, this is a “trend.”

In an article called “Zipper Rippers” (okay, hee), Heather Harris writes:

The romance novel, a static and predictable genre, is undergoing an evolution of sorts: storylines written by straight women for straight women . . . about gay men. Gay men are allowed to read them, of course–there’s no gender ID check. But the authors want the books shelved with romance novels, not gay literature, and they are straight women writing the stories that they would want to read. Alex Beecroft, the author of False Colors, an “m/m romance” set in the mid-18th century British navy, doesn’t see what the big deal is. “Whether your romance is m/f or m/m, love is the same,” she writes in an e-mail from her home in England, “two people, heart and soul, fighting for something beautiful, something worth fighting for.” Yes, but is it really a romance novel if there’s not a heaving bosom?

Let’s get the irritating part of this out of the way: I think the inclination to shelve gay romance with other romance is a noble one; as Beecroft explains, it’s because romance is romance, and shelving it with other romance is not so much a cry that this is a book that should be read by women (even though, okay, the majority of romance readers are women, they are not ALL women) but that it shouldn’t be isolated as GLBT fiction. I also don’t like the sneer here, like romance is for silly women. I have a literature degree and I like romance novels, okay? I know men who have read Nora Roberts. Everyone get over themselves!

The article credits Brokeback Mountain with ushering in some kind of new awakening in women and increasing the demand for m/m romance. I wonder how much this is actually true. See above about slash, but also, Queer as Folk had a pretty substantial straight-woman following, too. Maybe that reached fewer audiences, but my point is that it’s not like Brokeback Mountain was the first instance of two hot men kissing ever put on film and enjoyed by straight women.

Harris goes on to argue, using False Colors as an example, that perhaps this trend is just the latest iteration of the classic forbidden love trope. I will admit, this is one of the things that attracts me to the genre personally. I mean, don’t get me wrong, two dudes making out = awesome, but I think there’s a lot of room to tell interesting stories in this forbidden realm. Romance is one thing, having both characters involved in the romance be the same gender adds an extra layer of complication.

Beecroft adds

Beecroft also sees her stories as opportunities for her to play with and transcend traditional gender roles. “M/M romance can be used to examine relationships which don’t suffer from the same sort of built in power imbalances and gender role constraints that make m/f romance such a minefield,” she writes. “And of course, unlike f/f which has the same advantage of equality, m/m allows the writer to use characters who are not mired in feminine gender roles either. So it has a big element of escapism to it, plus the advantage of two gorgeous heroes for the price of one.”

I don’t know if I agree with her in terms of women pairings (go read a Sarah Waters novel), but I get what she’s saying here. You take the problematic role of women out of the story, especially if you’re writing historicals as Beecroft is, and you’re playing a different ballgame. You can have two dynamic characters, not one of greater social standing than the other.

I’m fairly new to the genre, but I’ve read a lot of m/m romance in the last year or so, including just recently False Colors, and there are a lot of great and a lot of really awful books out there. I’ve even read a few that fall into the realm of what I’ve seen bloggers call “OK Homo” where every character the heroes encounter is totally okay with the fact that they’re gay, which for me takes the meat out of the story. Because what are two character whose love is wholly accepted within the universe of the book but, well, two dudes making out? It’s gay porn, is what I’m saying, which is nice and all if that’s your thing, but doesn’t make for a terribly interesting romance. But that’s just my $0.02.

I had some mixed feelings about False Colors, which, if nothing else, is kind of a bildungsroman featuring John, a British naval captain, who befriends Alfie, another officer. John is deeply religious and also kind of a prude at the beginning of the novel. (Well, not kind of. He is a prude and his fellow officers mock him for it. He views even lust for women as a vice.) He experiences lust in Alfie’s company quite a bit but doesn’t really think much of it until Alfie confesses that he prefers the company of men, if you know what I mean. It’s not something John ever contemplated, and he has a long journey before he’s okay with his own inclinations, but that’s what’s interesting about gay historical romance: the novel takes place in a time before there even was the term “gay,” when sodomy was still a hanging offense. John at one point tells Alfie that it’s okay if they never have sex because he doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. (Of course, then they totally do it, and John is all, “Oh, so THAT’S what all the fuss is about.”)

See also Jezebel.


Posted on: June 24, 2009

So much slackery around these parts. The fact that I’m even making one of these posts is probably the kiss of death, but I’m renewing my commitment to this blog! Yes, I am! There’s lots of wacky book news to discuss and I’ve got two recaps in the works: 1 Christopher Pike, 1 really awful Harlequin romance from 1981. (It takes place in the arctic! Lesson: it’s hard to have sexy times when you’re wearing a parka!)

Posts coming up, stay tuned!

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Books to the sky,
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I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
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