In 2016, I decided to do something different with my reading habits. I decided to venture into reading adult romance novels. My mom read them, book bloggers I followed read them and society strongly suggested that as a young woman, I should be interested in romance novels.
I have always been and continue to be a dedicated reader of Young Adult Fiction, and I read from all genres in that audience category. The stories have always held my interest there more than in any other category.
I decided to least try and test the waters because the romance genre has such a dedicated and diverse readership. I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I loved reading Jane Austen so I thought, historical romances would be a good place to start. I jumped right in by picking up a bunch of paperbacks by different authors from the library.
In this post, I’ll be discussing some authors I read throughout that year and my thoughts on their novels.
I started with Mary Balogh’s “The Arrangement“.
What It’s About: Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.
At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and sensual pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?
My Thoughts: I think Mary Balogh was a good author to start with. She gives you a slow-burn romance that builds as the characters get to know and fall in love with each other. The relationship building is really what I loved about her books and what drew me to keep reading her novels. I do really enjoy some romance tropes like the marriage-of-convenience plot but it takes a great writer to tell a story that is heartwarming, sexy, humorous and refreshing.
I next moved on to Lisa Kleypas and a few of her novels. I started with “Dreaming of You.”
What It’s About: In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven—and into Derek Craven’s dangerous world.
A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London’s most exclusive gambling house—a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world—with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper “mouse” can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress—and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion…and the promise of love.
My Thoughts: I really tried to like Lisa Kleypas beyond one novel. I really did. The three I read had so much banter and I love that. But the characters, especially the men, were hard to be a fan of. Her novel, “Dreaming of You” was the better one and an actual favorite of mine now. The main character, Sara Fielding, is powerful, determined and courageous. She stands out and is an individual. Even her eventual man, Derek Craven, despite being morally dubious and the owner of a gambling den grows in the novel and he’s interesting.
The same cannot be said for any of the other characters in the Kleypas novels I read after this one. Especially, “Marrying Winterborne”, which made me so uncomfortable, angry and concerned. With each passing novel, the men became increasingly cruel and callous and somehow, their behavior was to be perceived as witty and teasing. No, that wasn’t going to fly with me.
By this point in my reading adventure, I had moved on to books by Cathy Maxwell (i.e. “A Date at the Altar”) and Sophie Jordan (i.e. “While the Duke Was Sleeping“) and found their books to be fun and okay.
Meredith Duran’s novel “A Lady’s Code of Misconduct” was a surprising novel in that it felt different from the other books I had read up until that point.
What It’s About: A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL…
Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.
…NEVER GOES TO PLAN.
The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for…
My Thoughts: This book had suspense and danger but also well-developed characters, which is a must for me. When we first meet Crispin Burke, he is not a good man. Seriously, he could have fallen off a cliff and I wouldn’t have cared. However, he changed through certain circumstances and experiences. He wanted to be better and that was water to me as I was dying of thirst in this romance reading desert. And Jane Mason! She took so many risks to get out and save herself from a terrible family situation. She was incredible!
I tried reading Tessa Dare (i.e. “When a Scot Ties the Knot“) and Maya Rodale’s (i.e. “Chasing Lady Amelia” and “Lady Bridget’s Diary“) novels but could not grow to like the writing or the stories. The situations in these novels were unrealistic to the extreme and I could not bring myself to get over that. You are probably thinking that I am being overcritical and mean but I cannot lie when I do not enjoy something. I also know that while I did not enjoy these authors, so many others do because it gives them something they were looking for in their reading experience. I am just not one of those people, unfortunately.
The last two novels I read for my year in reading adult romance were a surprise. They were different and I really enjoyed them
What It’s About: Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.
Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden.
My Thoughts: To this point, I had been reading books exclusively set in Europe and the UK. This book is set in the 19th-century American West. This story had it all for me: romance, strong and well-developed characters, and historical accuracy in terms of racism and prejudice. Many of the books I had been reading had been lacking something for me and that was definitely diversity and more meat for the story. This novel also brings up the topic of being a child of mixed race, which wasn’t brushed aside in favor of romance but instead woven into the story and very central to Rhine’s character struggles. It’s just such a good book!
What It’s About: It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang Li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China…
Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties. Street-smart and practical, she’s content to live in the shadow of her infamous mistress—until she meets the aristocratic playboy Bai Huang.
Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely imagine, yet alone share, but as they are thrown together in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang’s position means that all she could ever be to him is his concubine—will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart?
My Thoughts: This is a slow-build romance and I enjoyed every moment of it. The mystery was fun and interesting and added a bit more meat to the story. The descriptions of the time period (i.e. Tang Dynasty) were lush and atmospheric. Yue-ying is such an amazing character and I really loved her. She’s strong and resilient and realistic. While the ending of this book feels unrealistic, it gives us that happily ever after that Yue-ying deserves. And Bai Huang! There’s more to him than meets the eye but he’s still a bit of a moron, but I did adore that he never gave up on Yue-ying.
I wish Jeannie Lin’s romance novels were available physically and in-store so I could go buy them all and support her work. Rerelease them! Collect the Lotus Palace series in one volume! Now is the time.
Final Thoughts on the Year: I think the historical romance subgenre really thrives when the stories, characters, experiences, and settings are diverse. I’m not a reader that is easily satisfied by the same tropes told over and over again where the main character is chasing one thing only – the happily-ever-after. I love happily ever afters, I truly do. I just don’t enjoy it when the characters become the joke of the novel in order to achieve it. I want believable risk, interesting facts, social awareness, humor, a mystery, and imperfect characters that change and grow.
The only way we get those diverse stories is by diversifying who tells and writes those stories. We shouldn’t be relying on those already elevated and privileged authors to tell the stories of people they probably don’t understand the histories of. I am talking about having more people of colour writing the romances they want to see – historical or contemporary; super steamy or slow burn; full of cliches or only a few cliches; happily-ever-afters or no happily-ever-afters. We need those #ownvoices. Stories and styles of writing can only be made better when they too evolve.
Below I have linked to two articles. One acts as a great summary of what we know so far about the upheaval at the Romance Writers of America association and one is about the representation of Asian women in romance novels and how some authors of colour are tackling harmful tropes. They are…THINGS TO DISCUSS.