February is synonymous with dreary gray days and rosy red love – quite the dichotomy, no?
To fit the duality of the month, I, a relatively reserved individual, will share my journey into the literary realm of romance. After all, February 13 is the best time to delve into the spicy world of Harlequin and Avon romance novels – it’s Galentine’s Day.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Growing up, I was always fascinated by the collections of paperback books my great-great aunt and grandma had. Easily digestible individual reads based on their size and a quantity large enough to make R.L. Stine’s compendium shake in its ventriloquist dummy boots.
Of course, I wasn’t allowed to look at the “inappropriate covers,” but those I did sneak a peek at were dramatic and looked silly to my child eyes – shirtless men, horses, fainting women, a plantation or mansion off in the background, or a moor-like setting, reminiscent of a less depressing Wuthering Heights. Truth be told, as an adult, I still find them overly dramatic and silly.
However, as an adult, I’m no stranger to the genre of romance. I’ve dabbled in Outlander, consumed much of Sarah J. Maas’ body of work, and read Holly Renee’s Kingdom of Stars and Shadows books, plus the first half of Juliette Cross’ sister-witch series – I’m well-acquainted with steam and spice.
To follow my M.O. of reservedness and discretion, I typically order my romance books online via my favorite local bookstore or Amazon if I need it ASAP, i.e., for a book club read. But, I was recently directed to the “romance section” at McLean & Eakin, and I felt like I was doing something slightly wrong. I once again felt like a child sneaking looks at inappropriate book covers. After all, I’m not old enough to peruse such an area…right? But, come to find out, I am actually old enough at 32 to read what I want, even the rudely labeled “smut.”
Some may think I’ve fallen into the smut-reading group early, but I think the age demographic is getting younger and younger for the romance genre, and I, for one, believe I’m among good company.
Speaking of company, or rather companies, let’s talk about Harlequin Enterprises and Avon Books – both of which are part of HarperCollins. We’ll just ignore the whole “parent conglomerate owning competitive distribution/publishing companies” thing – NBD. Suffice it to say, HarperCollins has been getting double the paycheck from romance novel income for decades.
Now, for me, Harlequin has always been a more recognizable name than Avon when it comes to books, but Avon Books has been publishing award-winning romance since 1941 and is credited with launching the historical romance genre. Harlequin Enterprises, on the other hand, was founded in 1949 and has since become a leading publisher of books for women.
The main difference between these two subsidiaries of HarperCollins is that Avon is based in America, while Harlequin is situated in Canada. However, both distributors thrive within the romance genre and focus on love, promoting inclusive and emotional stories where love always wins. Aww.
In searching for the best book to read for this blog post, I was torn between The Pirate Bride (Avon Books, 2013) by Sandra Hill and Russian Nights (Harlequin Super Romance, 1991) by Kelly Walsh. I ordered both from Amazon, and it was a USPS race to see which would arrive first. The Pirate Bride was the winner, but really, I was the winner because this book was so outrageous.
The Pirate Bride gives us a group of lady pirates who have run away from abusive men and now populate a female-only island. And apparently, even in the Viking days, women worried about their biological clocks, and the lady pirates wanted bairns, babies, and little ones. The crux is that there aren’t any men on the all-female island, thus, no babies. So, they drug and kidnap some unruly Vikings in a port town and whisk them away to have their way with them.
However, things don’t go as planned, and the men are not happy about being abducted to be used by others – funny how that looks on the other foot. It was an unusual and refreshing plot twist to give the women the upper hand – excellent work, Sandra.
Throughout the 344-page book, hijinks ensue, drama unfolds, and of course, love grows because Avon Books revolves around love conquering all. So naturally, our obstinate male and female leads develop an attraction to one another, albeit an attraction full of banter, sarcasm, and headstrong stubbornness.
I won’t give everything away, but we’ve got the enemies-to-lovers trope, objectification of both sexes, cringey dialogue, and some very expected Viking names, with the best one belonging to our male lead – Thork. (More to come on naming characters next month.)
On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this read a steam/spice rating of 5.5. You’ve been warned/informed, depending on your spice tolerance.
Spicy reading aside, and to wrap this post up, I’m not one to objectify men or women, so the very extra book covers and outlandish plots and dialogue, in my opinion, are laughable and nothing to strive for in real life. It’s far better to giggle at Harlequin book covers at thrift stores than pine after the types of relationships portrayed within their pages (most of which are slightly out of touch with today’s social climate).
All that to say, I heartily encourage you to enjoy your romance reads, gals – the plot-driven and the cringey. Just remember: there’s no need to emulate the vixens or damsels featured in the stories – you’re already beautiful and awesome! That goes for you, too, men – no need to be a shirtless Fabio with rippling pectorals – just be who you are; that’s what the ladies prefer anyway.
Coming up next:
Monday, March 13