Contrary to popular belief (which I am partially responsible for), I actually like romance novels. No, really, I do. I firmly believe that romance is one of the trickiest genres to write well but when it’s pulled off, it’s unbeatable. With Summer coming (it’ll come to Scotland eventually) it’s the perfect time for me to curl up with a romance and enjoy the brief moments of sunshine my glorious country receives. However, as much as I love romance, I’m also notoriously picky about what I read. There are so many different types of romances out there, with more tropes than you can shake a stick (ahem) at. A lot of my preferences and must-avoids are pretty well known to our loyal readers but there are a few that truly grind my gears, and I’m here to share them with you now!
Cora Carmack’s “Losing It” has received a lot of love lately but it’s a book I’ll never be able to read objectively because I am so uncomfortable with the student/teacher dynamic being played for romance. For me, the balance of power is too unequal, even if the age difference is only a few years. When I was in high school, there were more than a few controversies due to students and teachers being caught having affairs. There was nothing hot about hearing stories of 16 year olds caught up in sexual encounters with the people who graded their homework and were closer in age to their parents. It even unnerves me if the student and teacher are both in their 20s because the student, who in these stories is usually female, will always be less in control than the teacher. That’s how that dynamic works. I’d rather read about a relationship where those constraints aren’t being used to create weak dramatic tension.
Instant First Time Hotness.
The virgin is an all too commonly used trope in romance. It always has been. It appears a lot in YA for obvious reasons, but it’s become rather popular in NA too. The fetishizing of sexual purity is something I’ve written about before but one of the many other elements of virginity in romance that bugs me is when the blushing virgin girl finally does have sex and it’s instantly orgasmic. No pain, no discomfort, no hymen clean-up afterwards (to be fair, not every virgin has a hymen because those things are pretty easy to break), just instant screaming and stars in the eyes. It’s romanticised, of course, but the sheer level of disbelief I have to impose on myself to get through reading one of those scenes without rolling my eyes is exhausting. I would love to see more romance novels where the couple genuinely care for each other, have a mutual attraction, and have sex for the first time and it’s not all that. Unfortunately, life is not that excellent. I’m also cynical about romances where the virgin heroine hasn’t even masturbated before she meets the designated love interest. More sex positive romances where auto-pilot is encouraged!
Any book that fetishizes wealth bothers me. Money is a really easy way to bypass a lot of necessary plotting in your book – you don’t need to bother with your heroine having to work to pay the bills and student debt if she’s got a guy with limitless wealth at her disposal. Money is a hugely important part of all of our lives because that’s how capitalism works but I don’t like it to be part of the romance in the sense that the courting features a lot of extravagant displays of wealth. It just makes me think “Jeez, lay it out on the table already” and wonder if I can start socialist warfare.
This is a pretty obvious one and I’ve covered it many times already so won’t go into too much detail. If the heroine at any point talks about being scared of the designated love interest or feeling intimidated by him, the book stops being a romance for me. If he grabs her, hurts her in any way or controls her actions, dress sense, friendships or anything else, that’s not romance to me. Not in any way.
“Your pussy is mine!”
Come on, do I even need to explain this? One, it’s not yours because it’s not on your body. Two, is this considered sexy talk? I tend to cringe whenever anyone refers to female genitalia as “pussy” or some of the more purple prose leaning euphemisms (never ever call it a “flower” unless you’re studying Georgia O’Keefe). The slang for vagina tends to be far funnier and more awkward than that for penis, in my experience. I’m not sure why, although I do know a lot of stupid names for the ding-dang-doodle! On this note, I also roll my eyes at any sex scene where the hero feels the need to describe the feeling of one organ inserted into another. “Ooh, it’s so hot/wet/tight!” You’re hot drilling for oil, you’re having sex so just get on with it and cut the commentary! I’m also unnerved by sex scenes that don’t seem to understand the difference between the vagina, vulva, clitoris and cervix. They’re not interchangeable! This is why we need good sex education in schools.
I’m Scottish, as you all know. I’m also a Celtic studies graduate who focused for a while on cultural representations of Scotland in entertainment. I had to watch “Brigadoon” for class. I had to look up pictures of Shrek in a kilt. I found surveys taken from several years ago in America where the most famous Scot the people polled could name was Groundskeeper Willie. I’m incredibly fussy and hyper-aware of Scottish cultural stereotypes. Sometimes I’m okay with it, like with “Brave”, but most of the time it’s just too embarrassing for me, and rugged Highlander romances are a big no-no for me. I just don’t have a high enough level of cringe tolerance to read them without wincing in pain. Having said that, I am curious about Diana Gabaldon’s work so maybe I’ll give it a go one of these days.
There’s just a few of my no-nos. I’m really picky and have stupidly high standards, can you tell? What are yours?