failWhat, it’s June already? I’m sure a I had a whole year here a minute ago. In any case, summer means humidity, allergies, and a sad lack of home AC. This year, it also means  squirrels in the roof (don’t ask. No, really).

And that means it’s time for my annual bitch column. This month I’ll kvetch about the things that really bug me about the Romance Genre.  As usual, I’ll be general rather than specific; there’s no need to single out any one particular book when there are so many bad examples to choose from.


Non-Mysterious Mysteries

Mysteries come in as many flavours as Romances (although they’re occasionally much bloodier) and they offer many of the same elements that I love about the Romance genre: solid character development, real stakes, and sense of success.  I am often drawn to Romances with a Mystery subplot.  The suspense drives the plot forward, and acts as a good foil to the budding relationship.  Of course, when the mystery is terrible, both plot and relationship are worse off.

By ‘terrible’ I really mean ‘easy’.  Let me qualify that a bit.  Since the relationship takes pride of place in a Romance, I understand that the Mystery part of things can’t always be intensely complicated. It’s supposed to be the side dish, after all, not the main.  Nor do I mind if I’m able to figure out whodunnit part way through the book.

But if I can point to the guilty party the second the crime is committed, I get really annoyed. Especially if the hints are spotlighted so they’re impossible to miss. Clear cut is acceptable: grossly obvious, not so much. That insults both my intelligence and also the intelligence of the characters. And if characters are so dumb that they cannot see what amounts to a giant sign saying “Guilty!” hanging over the criminal’s head, they’re too dumb for me to want to spend time with them.  Figure it out, already!

Grump, grump, grump.


Too Much; Too Soonnope

The Romance genre is often referred to as soft-core porn ‘for women’, which generally indicates that the referrer understands the neither the definition of porn nor of romance (nor, for that matter, of women). News flash: yes, there is sex in Romance novels. Well, in some of them, anyway, some of the time.  Some Romances are entirely chaste. In some books sex happens off the page or is described obliquely. In others, the erotic content is substantial.

Frankly, I think sex should be in Romances, especially contemporaries. They’re books about adults having adult relationships and sex is part of that. That said, it’s not the only part of adult relationships. And some writers seem to lose the ability to distinguish between erotica and romance. Nothing wrong with either genre. But when two characters meet and instantly fall into bed, in a Romance we need to see why, not just the mechanics of how their bits fit together.

Lisa Kleypas, Jennifer Crusie, J.R. Ward, Anne Stuart:  these authors all write wonderful sex scenes*. Moving, character-driven, and yes, sexy. But they key thing is, those writers know that sex changes relationships. We read that change, see the differences before and after. Nowadays it seems too many writers are throwing their characters into bed with one another as soon as they meet.  Not because anything has motivated them to be there, but because writers seem to think because more sex scenes = better. They’re using sex as a shortcut, hitting a mark rather than illuminating an unfolding relationship. It’s a double irritation because first its poor writing and second, they’ve just made sex boring. I mean, come on!

Argh, argh, argh.

[By the way, I’m only talking about Romance here. Erotica is a separate genre, and different rules apply. Myself, I think Erotica is better suited to a shorter format — short stories, novellas — but I’m willing to entertain arguments to the contrary.]


The False Positive

I don’t read a lot of online reviews. That’s partly due to what’s on offer. Negative reviews from entitled jackwagons who didn’t like the price; bought and paid for sock-puppet praise; capsule reviews like “This buk sux!” …none of that is worth a second of my time.  Another part is due to my (possibly over-inflated) confidence in my own ability to discern quality and skill. I read a lot. A LOT.  So if a reviewer doesn’t read as much or as widely as I do, why on earth do I need her opinion?** Does that sound like chutzpah? I can accept that. Truth is, books are both my job and my major hobby. I know a lot about them, and trust my own ability to navigate through the overwhelming shoals of new offerings.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what other people are reading. I can’t read everything myself. Not only because there’s just too many titles, but also because I don’t wanna.  So on a few trusted sites I do take note of the titles that people rave about. Often, those raves match my own predictions. On rare occasion, they introduce me to someone new. And sometimes they’re so far off the mark I wonder if we’re reading the same book at all.

I hate being misled like that. If it turns out I don’t like the book quite as much as others do, no problem. Everyone’s tastes are different. But sometimes I read a highly praised book only to find it subpar right down to the sentence level. That kind of false positive seriously pisses me off.

I’ve noticed an uptick in the phenomenon recently, and think it’s largely due to the rise of ebooks. New authors recommend each other highly, and readers add their praise — both to encourage more from the authors and to excite a little publicity. I understand the impulse, but it redounds to no one’s credit.  “A solid debut; look forward to more from this author” is a much better guide than “This is the best book I’ve read since {insert major author’s best title}!”

To be fair, this is not particular to the Romance Genre. But I’ve been caught by it here more than anywhere else. And it really bugs me.  I mean, shaddup! And while you’re at it, get off my lawn!

Grrr, grrr, grrr.


*Eloisa James also writes good sex scenes.  Sometimes they’re good scenes because the sex is bad.  Awkward, uncomfortable, amazingly real.


**I once read a review which began with the author proudly declaring that he’d read almost a thousand books. My immediate reaction was, “So… what did you read the previous year?”



 Chris Szego does actually like Romance. Honest.


2 replies »

  1. I enjoyed this article. I agree about the building of character in all genres. I get that the authors want to thrill or titillate us, but they can do neither if the characters say “Hello, let’s shag.” right off the bat. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I don’t find that sexy at all. Anyway, good stuff! Thanks!


  2. ha ha haha: ‘Negative reviews from entitled jackwagons who didn’t like the price; bought and paid for sock-puppet praise; capsule reviews like “This buk sux!” …none of that is worth a second of my time.’


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