BEFORE WE BEGIN: As someone with only a tiny bit of experience in the genre, I definitely do not have a wealth of knowledge on trends and themes of the genre. I think most genres are full of genre-specific signifiers and that it sometimes takes a little immersion before a reader can fully learn how to “read” the genre.
Beyond that, I used the (cue sarcastic voice) extremely statistically effective data collection method of a convenience sample, taking only titles that were freely available on NetGalley.
Given that I’m new to NetGalley, I don’t get a lot of approvals because I’ve only reviewed about 40% of the review copies I’ve received.
My thoughts here are geared towards the selection of eight titles I received, rather than as the genre as a whole, because I didn’t get even close to a representative sample size. After writing this article up, I’ve had some wonderfully enlightening discussions with some of my GeekFamily colleagues who are more knowledgeable in the genre than I am, and they have begun to open my eyes just how much broader the genre is than I, as a genre outsider, realized.
As you read through this, if you see something that I missed, if there is a book that I need slapped in my face, if you have a perspective that you want included, PLEASE SHARE IT IN THE COMMENTS! I can’t stress enough that this is a learning venture for me, and all of you reading this article have something to teach me. I look forward to what you have to say!
Now, then. Let’s get started!
I go through phases where the romance genre draws my attention. I think that most people tend to enjoy a story where characters find love, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have some problematic preconceptions of the genre being pretty light reading, usually not becoming too complex.
So I thought to myself, why not dive deeper into the genre and find for yourself what you really think. So, in a very unscientific manner (whichever books I could get review copies of because I didn’t want to spend a fortune on this), I examined eight books (regency romance seems to be pretty popular these days, but I wasn’t interested, which meant I ended up with mostly post-Fifty Shades of Gray pseudo-erotica, but that was a discovery that I would only fully understand once I started):
- Bought by A.L. Long
- Their Discovery by Rebecca Grace Allen
- Touch Me by Nancy Fraser
- Falling by Kris Bryant
- Just Past Two by Elia Winters
- Luca’s Lessons by Deana Birch & Amelia Foster
- Play a Game With Me by Cadence Vonn
- Half Breed Haven #1: Wilde-Fire by A.M. Van Dorn
Now, I’ll be honest up front. This was meant as an exploratory survey, and as such, I didn’t make it through all of these fully, and most I ended up skimming because it turns out I’m not super into the power dynamics and odd descriptions that I found in most of these. But I definitely got a taste of some of what’s coming out, mostly in the erotic sub-genre of romance. (Which, yes, is X-rated.)
And I mostly didn’t love it.
Bought was probably not the best place to start. It’s nice, simple purple and white cover ends up being a story of women being bought and sold as sex slaves, and the man who is a hero to the female protagonist because he frees her from the sexual slavery that he complicitly condones as a participant. I had hoped to include links to each of these on Amazon for those who were interested, but Bought appears to not exist on there, so I wonder if I wasn’t the only one who felt strongly about it.
Their Discovery had a much less controversial take on romance, and took a real-world topic and treated it genuinely. A married couple finds that their lives are starting to lose some of the luster they had when they were first married, and they decided to spice up their sex lives as a way to reconnect. From there, lots of experimentation begins to occur, and it seems like the couple might be solving one problem by introducing another one. Their Discovery is an extreme take on marital stagnation, but after sex slavery, it’s a definite step up. Because sex slavery.
One of the smarter approaches, from a logistical standpoint, was taken by Touch Me. It was short, got to its point, and moved on. It was written in an agreeable manner, and while I wasn’t riveted, it wrapped up before it had overstayed its welcome, unlike some of the other titles.
Falling was one of the books here that took on a deeper character approach. Two women find themselves impacted by tragedy as a plane crash derails their lives, and they find their connection may be not just shared disaster, but also a chance for growth. I found this one to be pretty slow going at times, with some excess padding, but I appreciated how Kris Bryant sought to make this meaningful. This was one of the better books of the bunch.
Just Past Two follows a woman who realizes her freewheeling college ways don’t have to stay in the past. This book felt a little too “after school special,” with its awkward dialogue and convenient friskiness. While I’m all for people being their authentic selves, but this was all a little too pat. By this point in my exploration of the romance genre, I was feeling a bit frustrated.
If I were looking for a book in this set that is in the Fifty Shades of Gray mold, it would be Luca’s Lessons. I honestly found this one really tedious, as the writing was heavy-handed and there was little plot progression at all. I couldn’t get very far, because the characters were so empty. This was also true with Play a Game With Me, which also dealt with a rich male being irresistible to the female protagonist and her token gay best friend. These tropes were getting pretty tiring.
I saved what I figured to be the most bizarre one for last. Let’s be honest: I picked up Half Breed Haven #1: Wilde-Fire because I was a bit shocked by the title and I had to know more, wondering what story could possibly be paired with a title problematic enough that it was willing to use “half breed” unironically in contemporary literature. This is one of those books that fits the mold so frequently lampooned online, where what seems likely to be a male author manages to mention the protagonist’s “adult bits” (this is a family site…) on the very first page. The “half breed” elements are as problematic as you might expect, as well. This was definitely not my cup of tea.
So what did I learn in my brief exploration? That there are a lot of interesting and varied topics and themes in romance fiction right now. Many of those represented in this selection of titles aren’t for me, and it seems that many of these titles may not be the strongest representatives of the genre. I can’t say much about some of the larger romance publishers, as I wasn’t able to review those, so I take these thoughts with a grain of salt because I also couldn’t help but include a number of fringe titles in my look over.
I also believe that I’ve been a bit spoiled by my long time with graphic novels. I feel like comics do a beautiful job of seamlessly including the nonverbals of communication that can be clunky in some of these books. The inclusion of art is such a huge advantage in stories that involve descriptions of nonverbal behaviors, such as facial expressions while flirting. Even setting tone can be done with appropriate use of color in images, and was handled much clunkier in most of the books here.
I’m not closed off to the romance genre by any means, but I’m definitely going to seek guidance before I dive back in. There is a lot out there, and this was clearly not the best method to take to get a title that I would be really drawn into. Do you have suggestions? Put them in the comments below!
Luke Forney and/or GeekDad received copies of each of the books included in this list for review purposes. If you are reading this article anywhere other than on GeekDad or GeekMom, you are reading a copy not authorized by the author. Please check out other articles at www.geekdad.com