Tag: Holly Says

Retro Post: Fifty Shades of Grey is Not Romance

Posted June 21, 2017 by Holly in Features | 19 Comments

Retro Post: Fifty Shades of Grey is Not Romance

I (Casee) love this post. I have these books in my TBR pile. This is the second time this post has been reposted, but I feel that it is deserving. This post was originally posted in 2012 (when the books were published) and again in 2015 (when the movies were released).

It seems everyone is talking about Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. Whether you read it or didn’t, loved it or hated it, I bet you’ve either talked about it with someone or read about it somewhere. Maybe you only heard the title mentioned and know nothing else about it. Or maybe you’ve read it 18 times and can recite it line-by-line. Whatever the case, it’s out there.

First, let’s just get this out of the way: I read all three of these books in a day and a half. As soon as I finished the first one, I bought the second. Likewise with the third. I paid $9.99 PER BOOK for digital copies. It’s possible I was drunk at the time (or should have been). Especially while reading the third. That was just a big ball of WTF rolled up in 500-something pages.

There’s been a lot of criticism on many fronts for this trilogy. I’m not going to touch on the fanfic aspects, because frankly I know nothing about fanfic and I’d only come off sounding like a moron (if you’re interested, author Kate Davies posted an interesting piece about fanfic and Dear Author did an entire series about it) . I’m also not going to address the “mommy porn” label that’s been ascribed to these books. The term makes my head want to explode and I have too much to live for. I will say that “mommy porn” is insulting and it makes me want to punch someone in the junk (because I’m sure a man came up with that).

I would like to address two misconceptions that bother me greatly about this series.

This is a romance novel.

I disagree. While there are many similarities, what keeps this from being a romance in my book is the nature of the relationship between Christian and Ana, the main protagonists. Yes, it has many of the same tropes we find in romance: Billionaire, Tortured Alpha Hero becomes intrigued with Virginal, Malleable Heroine. She thinks she can save him and he only wants her for sex – but then becomes intrigued by her and decides he wants to keep her. On his terms, of course. Which she, naturally, doesn’t agree to. Much angst ensues. Until finally, Happily Ever After (complete with rainbows and unicorns a meadow full of wildflowers and mention of tasting breastmilk).

I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re saying OMFG what do you MEAN tasting breastmilk??? “Gee, Holly, this sounds an awful lot like a romance novel to me.” And yes, I know on the surface it seems that way. But the truth is, at its core, this is a book about a sad, troubled man who tends toward being abusive and the woman who enables him in being this way.

After reading this trilogy I wanted to write a post titled Why Stalking Is Not OK. Actually, I still kind of want to write that post. But for now I’ll just say it here. Stalking Is Not OK.

I know some novels in recent years have glorified stalking. Most notably for me – probably because it’s marketed to young adults – is the Twilight franchise. But Edward sneaking into Bella’s room to watch her sleep without her knowing was nothing compared to this.

Let me outline a few examples for you.

A. Ana drunk dials Christian one night and he freaks out over the fact that she’s drunk and demands to know where she is. She hangs up on him. 15 minutes later he shows up at the bar. When questioned, he reveals he tracked her cell phone to find out where she was.

“How did you find me?”

“I tracked your cell phone, Anastasia.”

Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind. (Grey p.57)

B.  Christian sends Ana gifts to and drives her home.  Only, she never mentioned where she lives, so how did he know?

“He pulls up outside my duplex. I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live – yet he knows. But then he sent the books, of course he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone-tracking, helicopter-owning stalker wouldn’t.” (Grey p.74)

C. He returns unexpectedly from a trip because she meets a friend for a drink instead of going straight home. Yes, he actually cancels a business trip because she met a friend. He specifically told her to go home and when she didn’t, he rushed home to spank scold her.

D. Despite having only known him for a few weeks, he knows her social security and bank account numbers. And he accesses them without her permission.

Now, Ana does call Christian out for his behavior. But she does it in a way that says she doesn’t think it’s a very big deal. Personally I would have stabbed him in the throat called the cops the very first time he said he used my cell phone to track my whereabouts 5 days after I met him. But that’s just me. Ana sort of laughs off most of the things he does. If she does become angry and points it out to him, he apologizes and she forgives him. And then he does it again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

As I was reading, I kept wondering in what world it’s ok to do the things he did. Were we, the readers, supposed to accept his behavior because Ana did? Or perhaps I was supposed to accept his behavior because he was just a sad little boy on the inside? One who was “Fifty shades of fucked-up” from the emotional and physical abuse he suffered as a child? Because that doesn’t work for me. Honestly, that just freaks me out even more. An unbalanced, self-proclaimed “fucked-up” guy is stalking me at my place of work, knows every detail about my life and follows me around town without my knowledge or permission? I don’t laugh it off and say “now, now, be a good boy”. I run screaming in the opposite direction.

This is a healthy, loving relationship.

No. This is a sad, destructive, abusive relationship. Over the course of the three novels it becomes slightly less destructive and abusive, but only slightly. When I finished the third book I did so with a heavy heart and a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, they are eminently readable. But they’re also depressing as hell.

The mind games and emotional bullying Christian indulges in to get his way; The fact that Ana seems more like a victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome than a woman in a healthy, loving relationship. These are textbook signs of an abusive relationship. Cutting her off from her friends unless he’s with her or can control the environment she meets with them in, following her on a trip to see her mother even though she expressly asked for time alone to digest things, having her followed and spied on, buying her a computer and a Blackberry and a car, so he can get in touch with her whenever he wants, ordering for her and steamrolling her when she complains:

“Two glasses of the Pinot Grigio,” Christian says with a voice of authority. I purse my lips, exasperated.

“What?” he snaps.

“I wanted a Diet Coke,” I whisper.

His gray eyes narrow and he shakes his head.

“The Pinot Grigio here’s a decent wine. It will go well with the meal, whatever we get,” he says patiently.

“Whatever we get?”

“Yes.” He smiles his dazzling head-cocked-to-one-side smile, and my stomach pole vaults over my spleen. I can’t help but reflect his glorious smile back at him.

These are not signs of a healthy relationship. That Ana tolerated this behavior – and even excused it, or worse, came to enjoy it – does not make it okay.

I think the worst part, however, is the way he casually dismisses her feelings. Especially in the beginning when it comes to being a submissive. The first time he spanks her, she’s very upset afterward. She tells him she felt demeaned and abused. His response?

So you felt demeaned, debased, abused & assaulted – how very Tess Durbeyfield of you. I believe it was you who decided on the debasement, if I remember correctly. Do you really feel like this or do you think you ought to feel like this: Two very different things. If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try and embrace these feelings, deal with them, for me? That’s what a submissive would do.

And naturally, she’s thrilled he thinks of himself as hers, and brushes aside the fact that he’s told her to get over her feelings and let him humiliate and debase her.

As the series continues, Ana learns to stand up for herself a bit more and Christian learns to give in to her occasionally – oh wait, no. That didn’t actually happen. The author told us that’s what happened, but the actions of the characters didn’t change a whit.  Christian still ordered Ana about, cutting her off from her friends and managing her life whether she liked it or not. And she let him.

This does not a romance novel make.

Are these books very readable? Yes. Are they enjoyable? I would say no, but I think that depends on the individual person reading them. Are they romance novels? Not even a little bit.

Fifty Shades of Grey is not a romance.

*I made some minor editorial changes to the revised post

Retro Post: The Chin Affliction

Posted May 15, 2017 by Holly in Discussions | 10 Comments

This month I had to share with you Holly’s Chin Affliction. If anything, I think the Chin Affliction is even more prevalent today.

This was originally posted on November 17, 2009.

Have you noticed how active chins are?

“She thrust her chin out”

“Her chin came up”

“She lifted her chin”

You notice all the quotes I used above reference females. The Chin Affliction is most often used to showcase a stubborn and/or independent (though IMO many times these traits are interchangeable) heroine. The hero insults her and her chin comes up to show she isn’t intimidated. She faces an unfamiliar situation and her chin comes up to show she’s unafraid. She becomes angry and her chin thrusts out in challenge.

This is something that’s bothering me more and more lately. I like to call it The Chin Affliction. It bothers me because I feel like the moving chin is often an easy way for authors to show emotion. Her chin coming up symbolizes something, which takes some pressure off the author. Plus, I don’t think I’ve ever raised my chin in my life – not when I was angry or scared or being stubborn. It strikes me as a somewhat childish gesture, and frankly it annoys me.

Have you ever even noticed The Chin Affliction? Does it bother you? Is there something else that keeps cropping up that annoys you?

Retro Post: Forced Seduction or Rape?

Posted March 15, 2017 by Casee in Discussions | 22 Comments

A lot has changed in publishing since 2008, but forced seduction and rape haven’t gone away. If anything, I think we’ve seen even more of this in contemporary novels.

This was originally posted February 25, 2008.
Casee: The other night, Holly and I started talking about the ever controversial topic–rape in romance novels.

The topic came up when I mentioned that I was going to start reading Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell. (I’ve since finished it and hope to have my review up in a few days.) Holly asked if CtC had the “forced seduction” in it, which yes, it does. There are several reviews on Amazon taking the author to task for daring to call her book a romance when the hero rapes the heroine. Whether it was rape is another story altogether. One reviewer told her that CtC was a throwback to the bodice-rippers of the 80’s.
Hello? Have these reviewers ever read Stormfire by Christine Monson? That is indisputably rape. That book is one that doesn’t neatly fit into the “romance” slot it’s supposed to. I’m sure that almost everything that has read Stormfire would agree that there is no question of forced seduction or rape. It was rape.

Then you have the books where it’s rather murky. It basically is left to the reader to decide for themselves b/c it’s far from cut and dried.

The few books that came to mind when Holly and I were talking were Once and Always and Whitney, My Love, both by Judith McNaught. Holly is insistent that Jason raped Tory in Once and Always. Me, not so much. As a matter of fact, I had to go back and read a few pages b/c I don’t remember ever thinking it was rape.

No means no. Right? It’s not so black and white when it comes to the written word (please remember that we’re talking about this topic in regard to reading). As far as Whitney, My Love goes, I think it was rape. Clayton raped Whitney. I don’t even have to think about it.

Then you have books like The Duke by Gaelen Foley. The rape of the heroine turned the plot. It changed who the heroine would have been if the rape wouldn’t have happened. Does that make it less a romance? No, that makes it life. It made the heroine change her life choices, sure, but it didn’t make it less of a romance. That doesn’t mean it’s any less tragic, it just showed the reader that something like that changes a person’s life.

Holly:

There’s definitely a fine line between what I consider “acceptable” forced seduction and just flat out rape. While I agree with Casee about Whitney, My Love, I disagree with her about Once and Always. In my opinion, Jason raped Tory, same as Clay raped Whitney, it was just written prettier in O&A.

You see, Tory said no. She said no at the beginning and continued to say no throughout. Even as her body responded, she told him no. No is no. I don’t care what your body says. If your mouth says no (and it’s clearly not what you want) that’s rape. Plain and simple.

Of course, there are a lot of gray areas there. Because if well written, a forced seduction can be a turning point in a novel. And if extremely well written, I – who considers the “forced seduction/rape” issue a major hot button – will love the hero anyway. That doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.

But back to Jason and Tory. The thing is, I liked Jason. A lot. He was a good hero, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure Tory deserved him. She wasn’t totally TSTL, but she did come close. Regardless of that, however, that one scene, the scene where he forces her to submit to him, wasn’t sexy, or hot, or something I’d ever want to experience. Maybe it’s because I’m fairly independent. Or because I’m a modern day woman. Or maybe it’s just I can’t imagine having all control taken away, but when Tory told Jason, “I’ll hate you if you do this” and he did it anyway..well, a part of me hated him, too.

I have to give Judith McNaught credit, however, because even though I hated that one scene in the book, I didn’t end up hating the book as a whole. Nor did I hate Jason or Tory. Honestly? I’m not even sure if I can explain exactly why that is. I imagine it has something to so with JM’s ability to make her characters 3 dimensional and real.

Of course, we’re still not talking about rape. We’re talking forced seduction. Rape, well, that’s something all together different. I don’t think there’s any coming back from rape.

What do you think? Do you think there’s a place for Forced Seduction in romance? What about Rape? I’m not talking about the heroine being raped by someone other than the hero, either. I’m talking about the hero forcing the heroine, against her will.

I think Forced Seduction has it’s place. There are times – though I’m loathe to admit it – when it really needs to happen for the story to progress, or the characters to develop. Rape? I don’t know. I have yet to read a novel labeled romance where the hero actually raped the heroine. There have been a couple close calls, but not an actual rape.

Casee:

I really believe that in the cases of the McNaught books or Claiming the Courtesan, it really is left up to reader interpretation. In books like Stormfire or Island Flame by Karen Robards (those come to mind first), it is clearly rape and those books are not for everyone. I agree with Holly that Forced Seduction does have it’s place.

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Ransom
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General
Pages: 438
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.

two-half-stars

Retro Post: Does Size Really Matter?

Posted February 15, 2017 by Holly in Discussions | 15 Comments

This week I’m bringing it back around to the good stuff…because this is still a relevant question today.

This was originally posted May 4, 2007.
A few years ago I read a book by Susan Andersen called Hot & Bothered. The hero of H&B is none other than John “the Rocket” Miglionni. He’s a former Marine turned P.I. and his claim to fame is the size of his Johnson. No, I mean it. You see, The Rocket had a pretty hard childhood, and he kind of figured he wasn’t as good as all the other guys out there. Until the first time he had to take a shower in the locker room, that is. Then, much to his surprise (and mine, if I’m being honest here) the other men started going on about how well hung he was. Now, it’s been awhile, so I can’t remember for sure if SA actually told us just how big The Rocket was, but I do know his nickname stemmed from his rather..ehem…large size (If you know what I mean and I think you do).

Now, SA certainly isn’t the first romance author to talk about her darling hero’s size, and I know she most certainly won’t be the last. And if we’re being honest here, ladies, we can admit (if only to ourselves and each other) that size does matter. Now, now, don’t look at me like that. We all know it’s true. Men, if your lady is telling you it’s not an issue, she’s lying.

Side Note: Regardless of the size, however (whether it be large or small), knowing what to do with it does make a difference. Right ladies? :End Side Note

But I think it’s important for women everywhere to qualify the statement “Size Matters!”. Why? Well, while it’s true that size is important to us, there has to be a cut off point there. Because, I have to tell you, there have been times when reading about a particularly large member and my only thought is, “Ouch! That’s gotta hurt.”

That’s right, I think it’s time we draw the line. Sure, size matters, but that statement goes both ways. Because I have to tell you, the thought of a full foot of manroot anywhere near my love well just makes me queasy. Come on, that shit would hurt! As Jaine Bright from LH’s Mr. Perfect once said, “Anything over 8 inches is strictly for show and tell.”

Rowena here and I’ve got to totally agree with Holly there, and I’ll tell you why just as soon as I can stop laughing from her mention of man roots and love wells.

LMAO LMAO LMAO!

I’ve been reading romance novels for a few years now and I’ve read my fair share of descriptions on just how well endowed most of the heroes are and lately, it’s been making me roll my eyes down the street at how absurd it’s getting. And not even just in books that I’m reading but also in reviews of books that other people are reading.

Like Karen S for example. She just read a book called Ben’s Wildflower by Carol Lynne and the hero, Ben has an overgrown cock. His overgrown manroot is giving him problems and he’s ashamed of it because it’s the total bane of his existence.

Are you frickin’ kidding me?

Yeah the eff right. If you’ve got a 10 inch boinker, you’re not ashamed of it, you’re not being a whiny baby about it, you’re screaming from the rooftops like you’re Dirk Diggler.

You’re screaming, “I am a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a big bright shiny star. Yeah, thats right!”

Really.

But does the size of a man’s johnson really factor into how well we like our heroes? Say Derek Craven had a little willy, would we all still love him as much as we do? I mean, that’s not what we’re all gushing about when we discuss his book, right? It’s not what we most remember about Derek, so is it really necessary to go on and on about the size of the hero’s ding-a-ling? I’m not saying that Lisa Kleypas did that or anything I’m just well, saying…yeah we know the hero is a big mothereffer down there, we expect it…but would it matter what size the hero is in order for him to be macho and lovable?

I don’t think so. We love them for who they are, not what they have in their pants…don’t we?