Our guest book blogger this month is Jackie C. Horne from Romance Novels for Feminists. If you’ve never visited the site, you should. In addition to her book recommendations and insightful comments, she discusses issues important to women. Often, those topics directly correlate to the books she reviews. Now, we’ll let Jackie share her recommendations to our readers for the month of March.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an intelligent woman in possession of a feminist sensibility must not be in want of a romance novel. Or at least so says conventional wisdom, based on feminist literary criticism of the genre dating from the 1970s and 80s. But with a generation of authors since then having grown up taking the insights and political gains of feminism for granted, feminism and romance fiction no longer make for strange bedfellows in 2014. Here are just a few of the many contemporary romances published in the last few months that embrace the heart of feminism: that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, not only under the law, but on the job, in their homes, and in their romantic relationships.
Live by Mary Ann Rivers
Romance novels that play with, or call into question, the conventions of the genre often do so for feminist reasons. Mary Ann Rivers’ Live, her first novel, and the first book in her Burnside series, looks at what happens after the typical romance novel Happily-Ever-After, when men declare to the women they love, “I’ll follow you wherever you go; wherever you are is my home.” After a whirlwind romance, Welshman Hefin (rhymes with Kevin) marries an American woman visiting Wales on vacation, and follows her home to the States. But Hefin’s HEA is not so happy; his struggles with Immigration, his inability to find work in his chosen field, and his lack of employment (which lasts for more than two years) damages his marriage beyond repair. At novel’s start, he’s divorced, working as a woodcarver rather than as the engineer he’s been trained as, trying to make enough money to allow him to return home to Wales.
Such plans make it less than wise to respond to his attraction to the freckle-faced young woman who comes each day to the library he’s restoring, conducting her own search for work. Though Hefin makes it very clear to Destiny Burnside that he’s leaving in eight short weeks, Destiny, who has weathered her own share of personal grief, decides joy today is worth pain tomorrow, and convinces Hefin to enjoy the time that they have.
Neither Des nor Hefin is prone to casual relationships, though, and their affair quickly shifts from physically to emotionally intimate. And now Hefin finds himself in the same position he vowed he’d never be put in: in love with someone who lives hundreds of miles from his own home. Will Hefin ask Des to move for him? Will she ask him to stay? Is it only a question of either/or, America or Wales? Rivers’ elegant, poignant prose only adds to the multiple pleasures offered by this insightful romance.
Full review at Romance Novels for Feminists
The Backup Boyfriend by River Jaymes
Have you ever heard the phrase “gay for you”? It’s a term describing a romance novel in which one partner starts the book as heterosexual, but then develops sexual and romantic feelings for a lover of the same sex. We had an interesting debate over on RNFF about whether that label could be applied River Jaymes’ male/male romance The Backup Boyfriend, and whether the subgenre is inherently homophobic, or merely a reflection of a more diverse sexuality than most folks are comfortable admitting.
Even if you’re not at all interested in any such philosophical or political debates, you’re likely to find The Backup Boyfriend well worth a read. The heterosexual half of the novel’s romantic couple, working-class motorcycle repair shop owner Dylan, tells Alec, the sweet, slightly inept doctor whom he finds himself attracted to, that he’s an “only-one-woman-a-night” kind of guy. But when Alec’s former live-in lover questions Alec’s competence on the new motorcycle Dylan is helping him learn to ride, Dylan thinks to take the condescending jerk down a peg by announcing “Alec brought me home and fucked my brains out last night.” Dylan’s smart mouth and protective instincts soon have him playing the part of Alec’s boyfriend, with the two becoming increasingly uncertain just how much of a “backup” Dylan really is.
With two well-realized and appealing protagonists, and a romance both sweet and pleasure-inducingly hot, The Backup Boyfriend asks readers to think hard about the ways labeling our sexual desires can be both productive and limiting.
Full review at Romance Novels for Feminists
Jaded by Anne Calhoun
I’m always fascinated when I come across a line in a romance novel where the heroine chastises herself for not thinking/feeling/doing what she believes a feminist should do. Take this one, from Anne Calhoun’s latest, Jaded:
But no one possessed her. No one reached out and claimed her. Of course in the twenty-first century, women didn’t want to be claimed. They built careers, made their own money, raised children on their own, planned for their own retirement.
Given a little time, she could probably come up with a less politically correct ambition, but she really, really wanted to belong somewhere, to someone.
Jaded’s heroine, Alana Wentworth, has grown up feeling like the “one” in “one of these things is not like the other.” With a respected Senator for a stepfather, a diplomatic political wife for a mother, and now, an older sister who’s become the high-profile spokesperson for the family’s foundation, a charity devoted to alleviating global poverty, how can quiet, observant, content-with-the-background Alana ever fit in?
Alana hopes that taking a sabbatical from her job as the Wentworth Foundation’s go-to researcher might help her find out just what it is she really wants out of her life. But so far, life as a small-town librarian in sleepy Walkers Ford, SD, hasn’t given her any insight. With just two weeks left before she’s due to return to the land of the Wentworths, the only thing habitual procrastinator Alana has come up with to help her become more proactive is to make a pass at her neighbor/landlord, Chief of Police Lucas Ridgeway.
Neither Alana, nor cynical Lucas, jaded from his negative experiences on the Denver police force, think that their oh-so-sexy times will lead to anything more than a short-lived affair. Yet in the way of all good romance novels, the two find themselves not only developing deeper feelings for each other, but also changing and growing in unexpected ways because of what each learns from the other. And both Alana and the reader gradually come to realize that for a twenty-first-century woman, living a self-directed life means not only earning one’s own money, forging one’s own career path, and planning for one’s retirement, but also understanding what one truly wants. Out of sex, out of a home, and out of a romantic partner. Feminism is not about denying desire, but about understanding it, acknowledging it, and working to satisfy it, especially if your desires do not come close to matching the ones your family thinks you should feel.
Deeper by Robin York
Feminism can be hard to find in the New Adult romance. But author Robin York brings feminist issues front and center in her compelling debut novel, Deeper. The story opens with Iowa college student Caroline opening a link sent to her by her roommate, a link that reveals photographs that Nate, her old boyfriend, took with his iPhone while they were having sex. The link, to an Internet porn web site, includes not only the pictures, but also Caroline’s name, hometown, and an added-on cartoon bubble over her face: “I’m Caroline Piasecki! I’m a frigid bitch who needs to get FUCKED!”
Proverbial good-girl Caroline hopes that if she just keeps a low enough profile, the whole awful mess will just disappear. Lying low certainly means not getting involved with campus bad boy West Leavitt, even though the attraction between the two has sparked since freshman year. The last thing Caroline needs is to discover West and Nate in the midst of a fistfight, a fight purportedly sparked by her ex’s derogatory comments about her. But when Caroline goes to chew West out, to tell him in no uncertain terms she doesn’t need anyone defending her honor, things don’t quite go the way she had planned. And soon she finds herself in a tenuous “not-friendship” with West, a boy bent on protecting others but unwilling to show anyone the truth behind the façade he presents to the rest of the world.
York hones in what just what is so appealing to readers in the New Adult genre: first requited lust, new love, traumatic life-circumstances, and the pleasure-pain of love gone awry. But she also rejects many other NA tropes, carefully and convincingly exposing the sexism that underlies them. Only after Caroline stops blaming herself for her victimization, and understands “I’m not bad. I’m not good. I’m just alive. I’m just here, dancing,” can she find the courage to face down Nate, to demand her father’s love rather than his judgment, and to persuade West to allow her to be more than just the damsel in need of his saving.
Full review at Romance Novels for Feminists
About Jackie Horne
Jackie Horne has held many fascinating jobs over the course of a diverse career, including Drive-Thru window operator at a McDonald’s restaurant, typesetter, children’s book editor for a major trade publisher, line-worker in a tampon factory, and college professor. The author of award-winning scholarly articles and books on children’s literature, she currently splits her time between academic research, fiction writing, and musing about romance at her blog, Romance Novels for Feminists.