This short graphic novel, which can be downloaded here or ordered as a paper review copy from the website, is subtitled “Struggling for Family Acceptance in Iran: the story of two gay men.”

It is that rare thing, a work of propaganda which is also a work of art. The entire genre of protest music contains many wonderful songs so it’s not rare there, but I can’t think of too many examples of written propaganda which are also good art. This is. Since I already agree with its message, I was expecting a “preaching to the choir” effect and enjoy the art more than the story. I loved both. It’s extremely well-written, easily gliding from lyrical metaphors to wisecracks to satisfying story moments. It makes its point, but it does so much more than that, too.

Yousuf and Farhad, which was commissioned by Outright, was created to promote the idea that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that gay people should be accepted both politically and personally, to raise awareness of the persecution and prejudice against LGBTQ people in Iran, and to support Iranian LGBTQ people. It’s also a lovely graphic novel which is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and always moving. The art is expressive, and even the most minor characters feel like real people with their own stories. Actually, the supporting characters seem more like real people, while the heroes are more types, but that’s probably deliberately done to create an everyman effect and aid in reader identification.

It’s short and sweet, so I don’t want to give too much away. Yousuf and Farhad are two men in love in a place where their love is forbidden; they face prejudice, persecution, and despair, but also find comfort, support, and aid, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

On a literary level, it continues a very old tradition in Persian literature of linking Earthly love to Divine love with its comparisons of the beloved to holy places and things, and the love between the men with the love of God for his creations. The names of the heroes are taken from two of the most famous Persian works of literature, the heterosexual love stories of Farhad and Shirin and Yousef and Zuleikha. It obviously implies that gay love is equal to and as important as straight love and, more subtly, suggests that LGTQ people and the stories of their love should be as respected in Iran specifically, by tying them in to culturally important stories. (I’m using “Iran” to mean the modern country and “Persian” for its ancient literature; that seems to be the most common usage, but please correct me if it’s not the preferred one.)

This is a story which is radical given the current political context, but it does not appeal to radicalism. Instead, it says that there is nothing inherently radical or counterculture about same-sex love and it does not conflict with traditional values or with Islam, and it is homophobia which is a break from tradition and with Islam. I hope it gets through to the people for whom this would be a convincing argument or the only one they would accept.

I obviously read the English version, but it’s also available in Farsi. Contain people being homophobic and (decode at rot13com to see the spoilers) n aba-tencuvp fhvpvqr nggrzcg.

If you want to know if there’s a happy ending, gurl ner unccl naq gbtrgure ng gur raq.

If you would like to read more of Solani’s work, his graphic novel Zahra's Paradise was hugely acclaimed. Based on the subject matter— a young protestor who vanishes— it also looks hugely heartbreaking.

Jessica Stern of Outright wanted me to give a hard copy to the person who edited the latest Outright benefit anthology. (It's quite beautiful in paper and I wish it was more available that way.) So please email me with your address. ;)
Please share this far and wide. It's a very good cause.

His Animal Instinct: More Tales of Wild Pleasure is an anthology of gay romance stories featuring shapeshifters. All profits go to OutRight, which fights for the human rights of LGBTIQ people worldwide. It is an excellent organization and I have personally met its executive director. Please promote this anthology and make them some money. Also, the stories are fun.

Nine sizzling tales of gay paranormal romance! Ten best-selling authors bring you their hottest stories of shifters and the desires that cannot be denied.

From wolves to leopards, alphas to omegas, these men can change their shape… but they can’t change who they love. 

Rules for commenting: Lia Silver is an open, public pen name of mine. Please do not name or drop hints regarding other pen names of mine. Just trust that I have them, and the characters are as I say they are. Same goes for other authors. No outing. You don't need to know Milly Taiden's real name to discuss the fact that she is 1) an enormous bestseller, 2) totally ignored in all these discussions, 3) most or possibly all her heroines are Latina.

I put this up as a comment at Kirkus, where it was completely ignored. Probably because I brought in that least respectable of authority doings,* self-publishing. However, if anyone would like to discuss my point, please discuss.

[* ETA: I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, other than "things authors do." I haven't slept in three months and am on lots of drugs (medication, not recreational) and autocorrect isn't helping. It recently informed me that I need a socialist. I need a specialist. My country needs a socialist.]

Kirkus article on why the reviewer can't be bothered to read books featuring anyone other than white or straight characters

My comment: "I self-publish romance under pen names and while I don't know the readership of traditionally published books, the readership of self-published romance has a huge - possibly majority - contingent of people of color. In particular, there are a LOT of black women who love romance, and they read widely - not just African-American romance. Also, white readers who read self-published romance seem 100% fine with reading about heroines of color, in my experience. There have been no differences in sales of my books with heroines of color vs. white heroines.

Milly Taiden's heroines are all (or almost all) Latina, and she is HUGE - currently # 6 of Amazon's PNR (paranormal romance) authors. She is definitely not just read by Latina readers. Terry Bolryder (# 3 on Amazon's PNR bestsellers) has heroines who are mostly African-American. Zoe Chant (# 12 in PNR) has a number of heroines of color, plus some heroes. Or just look here.

Not looking at self-pubbed authors gives a very skewed picture of racial demographics of both readers and writers of romance. I enjoy paranormal romance so that's mostly what I'm looking at, but check out the top paranormal romance authors on Amazon. Many are self-published, and many have heroines of color. (Some heroes of color too, but not as many as heroines.)"

ETA: I forgot to add that while LGBTQ is obviously also a an issue of diversity in writing, it is a different one from the issue of the race of protagonists in romance. FF and MM romance novels are different genres than MF romance novels. While African-American romance can be a subgenre, the race of the protagonists does not typically change the genre of a romance novel the way that their gender does. For instance, Terry Bolryder's dragon menage books often have two white heroes and a black heroine. Their genre is "paranormal menage romance," and would be that if everyone was black, everyone was white, or the heroine was Asian and the men were Latino. If it was a MMM menage, then it becomes a different genre.

What this means, among other things, is that there are reasons why some readers might only read MM or FF or MF that have nothing to do with bias - they just aren't into the genre. If a reader said, "Hey, I love TS Joyce [an excellent PNR writer who usually or always has white protagonists], who else should I read?" I would rec them Marjorie Liu [an excellent PNR writer with multiracial protagonists] because the race of the protagonists should not make a difference in their enjoyment. I would not rec them a MM or FF writer with white protagonists unless they said they liked that too, because gender does tend to make a difference in people's reading enjoyment. It's a genre. If someone tells me they like historicals, I'm not going to rec them contemporary.

My experience with my own readers bears me out on this. Readers who like my MF romance books with white heroines like my books with heroines of color. (I know this because sales are identical regardless of the heroine's race, while other factors make a huge difference in sales. For instance, heroes who shapeshift into amusing tiny animals don't sell anywhere nearly as heroes who shapeshift into large manly animals.) But readers who like my MF books often don't even read my romance books with FF or MM main relationships. And vice versa. Different genres; I like all three, but I am probably in a minority there. Most people I know only like one or two, or at least have a strong preference for one.

However, if readers like my fantasy and sf (as opposed to paranormal romance), I'll rec them other fantasy or sf that's similar to mine with no regard to the genders in any subplot romances, because in those cases the romances are secondary to other elements and most readers won't care what genders are involved. Readers who love Swordspoint (which has a primary MM relationship) are probably responding to it being a fantasy of manners, and will enjoy books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Sorcery and Cecelia, which have primary MF relationships but are also fantasies of manners.

In other words: the people who think the race or ethnicity of the protagonists in genre romance is a dealbreaker for readers are generally wrong. I guess unless the readers are unusually racist. I do not assume that readers are unusually racist, and I wish that mainstream publishing and reviewers would stop assuming that. (Yes, I am biting my tongue to not state the obvious conclusion.)

Anyway, the fact is that due to racism within the industry, romance readers are underserved when it comes to traditionally published romance novels with racially diverse protagonists, but they are gobbling up self-published romances with diverse protagonists. That may be the cause or it may be because self-published books are cheaper or there may be some other reason, but the only people who appear to be refusing to read romances if the heroine isn't white seem to be concentrated in powerful positions in mainstream reviewing and publishing. No wonder so few diverse romances are traditionally published!

ETA 2: Feel free to link this! I would love to get more discussion going.
A completely adorable paranormal romance about the forbidden love between a werewolf boy and a weresheep girl.

The Capshaw sheep shifters and the Wolfe werewolves have carried on a feud for generations in their small town. It’s less murder in the dark, and more avoiding each other, getting in fist fights, and bringing up thirty-year-old fender-benders at inopportune moments. But Julie Capshaw and Damon Wolfe secretly befriended each other as little kids, until it ended disastrously when their families found out.

Julie went off to college, while Damon stayed home. But her English literature degree was about as profitable as one might expect, so back she came to help out at the family farm. Her future stretched before her, long and dreary and full of potatoes.

Needless to say, Julie and Damon’s childhood friendship turns into a very adult romance. But can they overcome his abusive father who rules the pack with an iron fist, the asshole alpha of a neighboring pack angling for an arranged marriage with Damon’s sister, and millennia of bad blood between wolves and sheep?

Of course they can! It’s a romance! But a romance that takes some rather unpredictable turns in the middle, giving it excellent narrative drive. In other unconventional elements, it has a lot of focus on the families rather than just on the main couple, and not just on characters who can be paired up in later books. I especially enjoyed the rifle-toting sheep grandmother.

And, of course, there’s the sheep. The worldbuilding is sketched in lightly but convincingly and originally for both species, from the different ways that sheep eyes work to the different cultural attitudes toward romance. And all the descriptions of sheep running around being heroic and the heroine’s little sheep hooves clattering over the floor never failed to crack me up.

If you enjoyed my Mated to the Meerkat, you will enjoy this – it’s funny and sweet, instant comfort-reading. If you generally dislike romance, this is not the book to sell you on it.

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing was written under a pen name by Layla Wier, aka Sholio/Friendshipper. (This is not a secret.) She’s a friend of mine, but I promise you that I would have adored this book anyway.

Only 99 cents on Amazon. I’m sure you could get an epub copy upon request.
Helliconia Spring, by Brian Aldiss. Science fiction classic with amazing worldbuilding, in a world where each season lasts for hundreds of years. Also relentlessly gross and grim, with characters who didn't engage me at all. Gave up.

Yet I feel strangely cheered that a brilliant man like Brian Aldiss can commit a sentence - not meant to be funny - like Something in his hollow belly went whang at the thought.

Even the best of us sometimes write "Something went whang."

Into the Night, by Suzanne Brockmann. I had somehow missed reading this installment of her Troubleshooters Navy SEALs series. Sadly, it was the worst one. Mike Muldoon has no personality - he's young, hot, likes older women, and... uh... that's basically it. White House staffer Joan DaCosta is incredibly annoying. There are stupid misunderstandings galore, plus yet another ridiculous romantic obstacle impossible to take seriously: Horrors! This completely perfect man is younger than me! Also, virtually nothing happens in the entire book.

The subplots were way more interesting, but the WWII one (which I liked a lot) had little page time, and the doomed romance between Mary Lou and the sweet Arab guy ended incredibly depressingly, with him probably dying of injuries sustained in the action climax and everyone falsely believing that he was a terrorist. I wonder if this is resolved in a later book, and I just don't remember it because I didn't have the context that would have made it seem relevant. (I remember what happened to Mary Lou; I mean what happened to Ibrahim Rahman.)
This short paranormal romance sounded right up my alley: two characters snowed into a cabin while battling hell-hounds and a curse! But it didn’t make much use of these delicious elements, other than the curse. Instead, it focused on the consent issues inherent in the old sex pollen trope. (Outside forces compel the characters to have sex.) Unfortunately, that didn’t work either, due to a combination of bringing up the issues without actually delving into them, plus a truly astounding amount of “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Olivia once shared a sizzling kiss with her co-worker Erik. He then shoved her away and proceeded to freeze her out for the next six months. Then she has to bring some documents to his woodsy cabin in the dead of winter. Next thing she knows, her car is wrecked, Erik has revealed himself to be part frost giant, and they’re both snowed in with a lot of poorly explained supernatural baddies banging down the door.

But it gets worse! Erik is under a curse, the nature of which he won’t explain except to repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly, demand that she shoot him in the head before he hurts her. After a lot of repetitive arguing, he finally tells her that the curse means he will be compelled to have sex with her in his part frost giant form, which is extremely well-hung.

She’s totally fine with this, since he’s now acting nicer, she’s had a crush on him all along, and she thinks he and his giant frost dick are super-hot. She does attempt to explain this, but gives up due to getting convinced that the reason he’s so dead-set against having sex with her is that he doesn’t want to have sex with her. Meanwhile, Erik is convinced that she doesn’t want to have sex with him, so any curse-driven sex they have will be rape. The “you need to kill me” argument repeats about five more times.

Some plot happens! They have sex! It’s a bit exhausting and rough but otherwise delightful! (His ice junk isn’t that big. It sounded a bit bigger than Liam Neeson’s.) Regarding consensuality, Olivia enthusiastically consents. Due to the curse, Erik doesn’t have a choice, but he would like to have sex with her under better circumstances and the reason he doesn’t want to have sex is that he can’t bring himself to believe that Olivia is actually consenting.

But due to Olivia again not being quite as direct as she probably could have been (by which I mean that she didn’t repeatedly bellow into his ear “YES I WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU I AM CONSENTING I AM CONSENTING THIS IS TOTALLY CONSENSUAL I LOVE FROST COCK YES I SAID YES I WILL YES”) and Erik again leaping to the worst possible conclusion, he decides that the curse-driven sex was rape and she hates him. She decides that he hates her and hated having sex with her. Then they finally manage to have an actual conversation and clear all that up. The end!

A very smooth, conversational, easy-reading style doesn’t save this paranormal romance from the Scylla of Stupid Decisions and the Charybdis of Communication Failures. Olivia was interesting but underdeveloped; Erik had very little characterization at all. As for exploring consent within the sex pollen trope, it probably it needed to be either much darker or to dig into the issues much more. “Murder/suicide or mildly rough but awesome sex that both parties would like to have with each other anyway” is right up there with “Cake or death” in terms of non-dilemmas.

The purpose of the sex pollen trope is typically guilt-free enjoyment of dubcon fantasies. You get all the trappings— “I know I shouldn’t but I just can’t help myself,” roughness, neediness, sex with someone who’s otherwise unavailable, swept away by passion, animal urges, spontaneity— without anyone being a rapist.

I have seen sex pollen fanfic that does explore consent issues, but it tends to go very dark. Typically, the characters really didn’t want to have sex and feel terrible afterward, or even if they did want to, they think the circumstances made it rape and feel terrible afterward. Neither scenario makes for a happily-ever-after without a whole lot of post-climax work.

Meljean Brook is a writer people keep reccing to me on the strength of good/unusual worldbuilding, lots of action, interesting characters, and cracktasticness. I will definitely try some of her other books! I think this was a bad one to start with. Other reviewers who didn’t like it mention that it’s very atypical of her usual style.

Tina Chen is a poor Chinese-American woman attending college with Blake Reynolds, a young white billionaire man. One day Blake opens his mouth in class once too often, to be mildly condescending about poor people. Smarting from the thousand other remarks from others that have come before, Tina lays into him and tells him that he couldn't survive two weeks of her life. To her amazement, he offers to trade lives for a month.

I love trading places novels. But oddly enough, the "trading places" storyline is minor. We see very little of Tina experiencing a rich person's life, and only a little more of Blake struggling to survive Tina's life. I would have found this disappointing, except that what we get instead is also satisfying: two young people with complex, likable, yet difficult families balancing their family duties with their inner struggles and a slow-burn love affair. It's a romance that reads more like a mainstream novel; the romance aspect takes second place to the family dramas.

Taken on its own terms and without any outside knowledge whatsoever - say, read by someone who doesn't know anything about the romance genre and hasn't read Milan before - Trade Me is simply a very enjoyable novel. If you happen to have any outside knowledge at all of a number of things, specifically Courtney Milan, the romance genre in general, and its current trends in particular, this is still a very enjoyable novel which is also spectacularly unusual.

It's a solid novel which, solely on the basis of quality, could have been published traditionally. Except that it couldn't be, because it's the first book in a set of three and the second novel is about the romance between an Asian-American man and a Latina trans woman. That book will be the only novel I'm aware of published as mainstream genre romance with a transgender main character. I can think of a few genre romances with Asian heroes. Every single one is historical, and most were written by Jeannie Lin.

Trade Me has a Chinese-American heroine. This wouldn't be extraordinary for a mainstream literary novel, but this is marketed as a romance novel. That's wildly unusual.

And then there's its weird relationship to various subgenres. The premise is about trading places, but the book isn't at all a fish out of water story. It's a romance with a billionaire hero that uses almost none of the billionaire romance tropes. I had expected it to be a deconstruction of the genre, but it's not that either: it doesn't engage at all with those tropes, one way or another. What it is a deconstruction of is American attitudes about class and wealth.

Oh, yeah, and the hero has an eating disorder. The hero. Not the heroine. Milan is usually extraordinarily good at depicting mental illness, so I was a little disappointed with how it's treated here: it's a problem until he goes into therapy, and then it drops out of the story. I think she does better in her historicals because the characters don't have the option of therapy, so they're forced to grapple with it all the way through. I appreciate the message that therapy is helpful and that your girlfriend is not your therapist, but sadly it removes most of the dramatic interest from that storyline - the therapy is mentioned but not shown, so the whole storyline just ends. There's nothing wrong with the storyline, it just feels shallow compared to how she handled similar issues in her historicals.

However, if you've been meaning to try Milan but were put off by historical inaccuracies, there are none here as it's a contemporary. It has much (not all) of the quirky charm of her historicals, and a stellar supporting cast. I was actually more interested in the protagonists' families than I was in them.

It's also the only billionaire romance I've ever read where I believed in the hero's company. Cyclone and its gadgets are characters in their own right, and I absolutely believe that the Cyclone Vortex would cause a stir equivalent to the iPod.

Trade Me (Cyclone Book 1)
Catching up on book notes; spot the theme!

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister), by Courtney Milan. Heiress Jane Fairfield has tons of money and suitors, but is determined not to marry; in my very favorite part of the book, she fends off her suitors with a combination of social obnoxiousness and spectacularly hideous dresses. Her sister Emily is shut in by her guardian due to epilepsy, but sneaks out and meets a sweet Indian law student.

A very enjoyable romance distinguished by excellent characterization, including of the minor characters, plenty of comedy, and good banter. I liked all the characters individually, but the heroines were much more interesting to me than the heroes, so this worked better for me as a novel than as a romance. It's the second in a series, but I accidentally read it first.

Look elsewhere for historical accuracy, though Milan does often use snippets of actual history: the hideous dye which plays a role in the story actually was a recent invention. Anjan could have been doing what he was doing in England at that time, but I don't think everyone would have been anywhere near as accepting of his romance with an English woman. The discussion of colonialism, the rights of disabled people and women, and other social issues are all important and true, but also a bit anvillicious. That being said, in terms of the actual portrayal of people with disabilities, both mental and physical, Milan is outstanding.

The Other Side of Us , by Sarah Mayberry. A woman filmmaker still recovering from disabling car crash injuries moves in next door to a man with an adorable dog. She too has an adorable dog! It must be fate. I liked the realistic treatment of her disabilities, but there were too many stupid misunderstandings for my taste.

Summer Campaign, by Carla Kelly. Genuinely heartwarming romance between Major Jack Hamilton, just returned from years at war and struggling with PTSD, and the bizarrely named Miss Onyx Hamilton, who is illegitimate and so considered lucky to marry anyone, let alone the vicar whom she doesn't love. (The name is explained, but still.) She is set upon by highwaymen! He is shot rescuing her! She does such a good job nursing him that he asks her to come nurse his dying brother. And their relationship slowly blossoms.

The social situation probably isn't historically accurate, but the medical details are. The characters' emotions and the slow growth of intimacy and love are very realistic and believable. If you're tired of insta-love and relationships driven by lust, this is the book for you. Kelly is one of the few romance writers who has heroes who are not particularly handsome, out of shape, etc. Her characters are ordinary people who value each other for their personality and kindness.
I usually enjoy Brockmann's books a lot, but she can be uneven and has written a handful of stinkers. Unfortunately, this, an older book in her "Tall, Dark, and Dangerous" series, was one of them. It had the single least convincing romantic obstacle I've encountered in romance so far, and that's including Brockmann's own "Because I'm your boss... in this civilian temp job that you don't even need."

Navy SEAL Bobby Taylor, on leave after being wounded on a mission, is dispatched by his teammate and best buddy Wes to convince Wes's civilian little sister Colleen not to stupidly go to a war zone to try to rescue orphans. Wes, who comes across as creepily controlling AT BEST, is dead set against anyone dating his sister. Ever. Especially not Bobby, his best friend and a completely stand-up guy. If Bobby dates Colleen, Wes will feel terribly betrayed, punch him out, and never speak to him again. Colleen, by the way, is 23.

I gather that "no one is good enough for my little sister" is a known trope, though thankfully this is the first time I've encountered it so hopefully it's died the death. But it's a trope that only makes sense if the hero has an (undeserved) bad reputation or a shady past, so the brother has legitimate reasons for wanting to protect his sister from him. It makes NO SENSE if the hero is a completely great guy who is also the brother's best friend. Wes goes so berserk over the thought of Bobby dating his adult sister that it makes him seem creepy and batshit and possibly incestuous. (Luckily I read Wes's own romance first (it's much better) or I never would have picked it up.)

Then there's Bobby. He's a tough Navy SEAL, so why is he so cowed by his buddy's nutso fixation on nobody dating his sister? He's completely inconsistent, too, bouncing every five pages from kissing her to telling her he wants nothing to do with her because, horrors, Wes wouldn't approve. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kept thinking, "Grow a pair!" But sadly, he mostly only manages to be assertive when forbidding Colleen to do anything dangerous.

And Colleen. I actually mostly liked Colleen. At least she knew what she wanted and went for it. Except that I wanted to back her belief that if Bobby was allowed to do dangerous things he believed in, so was she, but her orphans in the war zone mission actually did sound like a terrible idea. I also lost a lot of sympathy for her when the orphan she had meant to adopt was killed, and she was boinking Bobby about two hours later and thereafter mostly seemed to forget about the death of her nearly-a-daughter.

There's an accidentally hilarious climax where Wes appears, goes berserk upon finding out that Colleen is dating a man even though he doesn't know who it is and forbids her from dating whoever it is, finds out that it's Bobby, goes even more berserk, punches Bobby, declares that the reason Colleen shouldn't date Bobby is that Navy SEALs are never home, says she can date a military man as long as he's an officer (Bobby and Wes are enlisted), says it's terrible if she and Bobby are dating casually but it would be fine if they were married so they must MARRY IMMEDIATELY, then suddenly and for no reason decides it's fine if she dates Bobby. If I was Wes's commanding officer, I would have sent him for a mandatory psychological evaluation. Also drug testing.
Merry lost a hundred pounds, but achieving that goal made her feel unmoored rather than triumphant. She leaves America for a hiking vacation in Scotland, swims in a bacteria-tainted loch, gets sick, and collapses on the doorstep of hot, haunted Scotsman Rob Rush. He takes her in, takes care of her, and they begin to flirt. (Implausibly soon, in my opinion, considering how sick she is.) Turns out that he has some deep, dark secrets.

One is a sexual fetish. Not just a preference, a genuine fetish of the can’t-truly-enjoy-sex-without-it type. Between that and its odd/squicky aspects, his shame and secrecy about it made way more sense than similar plotlines involving more mundane preferences normally do. (“I can never have a relationship with a woman because she’ll be horrified to learn that I enjoy bondage!!!”) Luckily, Merry finds the very extremity of Rob’s fetish exciting—if she gives him what he wants, he’ll be incredibly aroused in a way that she’s never experienced before. This part of the book was nicely done, plausible and slightly dark and weirdly hot.

Unfortunately, there’s also his second secret. This one did not work so well. It’s alcoholism— the reason he’s lurking on the moors to begin with. The self-hatred that fuels his alcoholism is completely believable, but so much so that he does not remotely seem ready for a relationship. Which would be fine in a novel where a happy couple ending is not required, but this is a genre romance. They break up, she returns to the US, and then she gets a letter saying that he got into therapy and now he’s ready for a relationship, will she please come back? She does, he seems fine now, yay totally unconvincing happy ending!

I know I keep ranting about this, but I wish that if authors are going to take such care with showing the trauma and the psychological damage, that they also take the time to show some psychological healing rather than shoving it off-page. I would much rather they either break the writing rule that says that the decision to seek help is the climax and nothing can happen after the climax but a quick wrap-up, and instead have a long denouement showing some healing, or that they have the healing occur via emotional growth during the relationship rather than via off-page therapy, so you see it happen throughout the book. The “Hi, I fixed everything in therapy” ending is the worst of both worlds.

The novel is rule-breaking for a genre romance due to Rob’s fetish and the unusual genuineness of his self-hatred, and the sex scenes are hot, interestingly weird, and well-characterized. The ending is terrible. If you hate books where the heroine loses weight, you will certainly hate this as her pre-book weight loss comes up a lot. McKenna’s Willing Victim had similar virtues (unusual, very real-seeming sex scenes that were hot despite being something I normally find a huge turn-off) but a more likable hero and a much better (though still abrupt) ending.

Unbound: (InterMix) (Only $4.00!)

Willing Victim (Only $3.00!)
There are so many tropes that I have opinions about that I could discuss this topic all month. So today, for Tonapah, I will just discuss romance tropes.

Before I start, I just want to say that fantasies are fantasies. I never assume that people who write or read tropes I dislike literally want those tropes in their real life, any more than I literally want to have a hot bodyguard because I'm on a mafia don's hit list. Enjoying romance novels with asshole heroes does not mean you masochistically want to date real life assholes. Okay, on to the tropes.

There is a certain romantic hero type that has become very popular in straight genre romance. It is the arrogant, asshole, controlling, domineering, sexually dominating billionaire. Sometimes he is just one of those things, but often he is all six. One is fine if done well, but the rest are the opposite of sexy. This dude is my least favorite trope of the day.

Billionaires are not sexy to me. The essential thing about a billionaire is that he has lots of money. If the most attractive thing about a man is his wallet, that implies nothing positive either about him or women who are interested in him. When I think of a billionaire, I think of Donald Trump and Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good.”) I think of asshole bosses who exploit their workers. I think of men who are totally out of touch with real life, men who buy their way out of problems, men who have never faced adversity and wouldn’t last five minutes in any sort of crisis situation, unattractive men who have beautiful girlfriends who are in it solely for the money. My image of the billionaire is of a shallow, narcissistic, bloodless wuss who has to bribe women to have sex with him. Not sexy.

Arrogant characters can be entertaining. But it’s not an attractive trait by itself. I mostly enjoy arrogant characters if they’re regularly deflated. Similarly, asshole characters can be entertaining. But they’re not appealing as romantic heroes. I can’t root for them to get the girl, because I always think the girl would be miserable. I sure wouldn’t want to date one.

Some arrogant asshole characters are sexy, but on a “hot one-night stand” level. Mal in Firefly, for instance. Mal would be fun for a weekend, and might make a great platonic friend afterward. But Wash is the one you’d want for an actual relationship.

I don’t get the appeal of the control freak. I imprinted on Han Solo, who’s cool and confident enough to take things as they come and trust that he can handle whatever might arise. That’s sexy. A man who must control everything is a man who lacks confidence, spontaneity, sensuality, and a sense of fun. Uptight, buttoned-down men are probably bad in bed. Domineering men are obnoxious dicks. Men who try to control women are jerks at best and abusive at worst... and they’re often at their worst. None of this is sexy!

Sexually dominating men can be sexy; it depends on the writing. However, I have to be sold by the writing, because if there’s going to be BDSM at all, my personal preference is for femdom.

On that note, one of the most annoying tropes of all is the assumption that of course the hero will dominate the heroine, in and out of the bedroom, whether or not either of them are specifically into BDSM. Barf.

So a whole lot of recent contemporary romance has heroes whom I find both unlikable and unsexy. If I’m going to read contemporary, I prefer military romance or romantic suspense. Those are more likely to have blue-collar heroes (soldiers, cops, bodyguards, etc) with a more rough-and-ready attitude – John McClane rather Christian Gray.

For romantic heroes, I like rogues with a heart of gold, genuinely nice guys, tough guys, battered idealists, warriors and soldiers, scholars, and wizards. I like tricksters and pifflers who use their powers of deception for good. I like self-sacrificing men. I like men who don’t need to prove their masculinity, whether it’s because they aren’t traditionally masculine and don’t care or they’re so badass they don’t care. I like old-school gentlemen who aren’t sexist. I like men who’ve gone through hell and still aren’t assholes. I like pretty much any sort of romantic hero who’s brave, honest, and kind. I would probably like a billionaire with those attributes, but billionaire heroes are a different archetype that lacks those traits.

Probably my favorite romance trope is partnership. I love it when the hero and heroine fall in love while working together toward a common goal, and keep working together after their relationship is established. For instance, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, or Sam and Alyssa in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters, Ki and Vandien, or early-days Vlad and Cawti, or the main couple in the “Queen’s Thief” books, or any of Barbara Hambly’s romantic couples. Trusting each other with their lives, guarding each other’s backs, rescuing each other, tending each other’s wounds, fighting together, bantering together, figuring out a difficult problem together— now THAT is sexy.

A couple of these are enemies-to-lovers stories, which I like if the reason they’re enemies is that they start out with opposing goals or are on opposite sides. I’m a hard sell on “I hate your personality” enemies-to-lovers stories, because they tend to go in the direction of “asshole hero puts down heroine; bitchy heroine is mean to hero.” I find that unpleasant to read, and the resulting conversion is a hard sell.

I like to feel that the heroine and hero are compatible and enjoy each other’s company and will make a good couple once they’ve overcome whatever obstacles lie in their path. A surprising number of romance couples seem to have nothing in common and don’t actually like each other that much.

I almost never see this, but I love it when the heroine must choose between two or more romantic options who are both attractive and appealing but flawed, her choice will say something important about her, it’s not obvious who she’ll choose, and any choice would be valid. Offhand, I can think of exactly two examples of this: Patricia McKillip’s The Changeling Sea and Agatha Christie’s What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. (Possibly also Legend of Korra, whose romantic endgame I know of but which I haven’t seen yet.) A lot of love triangles start out like this, but resolve by making one of the choices clearly the wrong one. Then the heroine doesn’t make a true choice. Suuure, she’s going to pick the guy who turned into a ruthless killer who was indirectly responsible for the death of the person she loved most in the world!

One of my very favorite tropes in any genre is lovers or friends on opposite sides of a war. It contains so many things that I love and which are dramatically juicy: conflict arising from honor and idealism rather than petty or stupid or jerkish issues, tragedy, angst, difficult choices with no right answer, and grand battlefield melodrama optionally followed by moving reunions. I imprinted on the Mahabharata as a child, and probably nothing will ever top its version of this trope, with brothers, cousins, uncles, teachers, and friends on both sides of the battle lines. I rarely see this in genre romance, unfortunately, and can’t think of any examples offhand.

I like moments of tenderness and the hero and heroine being gentle with each other. I have a whole post coming up just on hurt-comfort, which is all about this.

I like realistic portrayals of PTSD. That’s now not uncommon in genre romance, which is nice. I don’t like PTSD used solely as a plot device or as a shallow nod to the concept of realism. I see this a lot in military romances, where the hero has nightmares that are solely there so we can see what happened to him in the war, but is completely fine otherwise. That’s not how it works. At the very least, he should feel lousy the next morning.

Also, PTSD is not an excuse to be an asshole. I see that mostly in contemporaries, where the asshole hero eventually comes out with some melodramatic tale of childhood abuse, witnessing his father murder his mother, first girlfriend died tragically and he blamed himself, etc. Guess what, we all have problems. Still not an excuse for being an asshole!
The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is a charming novella about Geok Huay (Jade Yeo), a young writer living in London in the 20s. When she writes a scathing review of a prominent novelist's latest book, he responds by inviting her to a party and flirting. A writer needs life experience, so how can she decline the opportunity for the learning experience of an affair?

The book has elements of romance, but it's more of a coming-of-age story; the affair is not particularly romantic, and includes a hilarious, deliberately non-erotic sex scene in which Geok Huay earnestly tries to mentally describe a penis for future use in her writing. The actual romance is plausible but sketchily developed.

There's not much real conflict and it seems implausible that Read more... ), but the book isn't really about the plot. It's about Geok Huay's voice. And her voice is a complete delight. I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It's the sort of book where you keep wanting to read funny bits aloud to any companion you might have on hand while you're reading it. The humor and meta-commentary on story and writing reminded me a bit of Cold Comfort Farm.

I reproduce an excerpt below, so you can get a sense of the writing style. If you like the excerpt, you will almost certainly like the book. (If you don't, you probably won't.) It's only $2.99 - well worth the price.

Saturday, 7th August 1920

I had tea with the intolerable aunt today. Aunt Iris, the one who is so rich she has a new fur every year, and so mean she has installed a tip box by the door of every WC in her house, so you have to pay a charge every time you need to go. And so sinfully vainglorious I remember she came to visit us at home once and wore a wonderful glossy black mink fur. She sat on the sofa with a fixed grin on her face, sweating gallons in the heat. Ma had to send Koko out to get the doctor. It was just before New Year and Ma was terrified Aunt Iris would go into an apoplexy in our drawing room–which would have been such bad luck.

I had my angle of attack all planned out today, though. On Wednesday I’d found out how much a piece of chocolate cake cost at the restaurant, and I went in with the exact change in my purse. When the waiter asked me what I wanted, I said: “Chocolate cake, please”, and I counted out my coins and paid him right then and there.

“I haven’t got any more money than that,” I explained.

Aunt Iris was furious: she looked like an aunt and she was wearing her furs, of course. Even the English must have thought it peculiar. But even so she didn’t offer to pay. She ordered two different kinds of cake and a pot of their most expensive tea, just to show me. But I profited in the end because she couldn’t finish even half of one of her slices of cake. I whipped out my notebook and tore out a page and wrapped the other slice in that.

“I’ll save you the hassle of eating it, auntie,” I said. “You must be so full now! I don’t know how you stay so slim at your age.”

I hadn’t meant the reference to her age as a jibe. My mother is a very modern woman in most ways, but she would still be offended to be accounted any younger than she is. Her opinion is that she did not struggle her way to the august age of forty-three only to have the dignity accorded to her years snatched away from her.

But Aunt Iris has become quite Western from living here so long. She has a passionate hunger for youth. It is especially hard on her to be thwarted in it because the British can never tell an Oriental’s age, so she’s been accustomed to being told she looks ten years younger than she is.

“My dear Jade,” she said in her plushest voice–her voice gets the more velvety the crosser she is–“I know you don’t mean to be impolite. Not that I’m saying anything against your dear mother at all–your grandmother wouldn’t have known to teach her these things, of course, considering her circumstances. But as an aunt I do feel I have the right to give you–oh, not a scolding, dearest, but advice, meant in the most affectionate way, you know–given for your sake.”

The swipe at my grandmother’s “circumstances” made me unwise. Aunt Iris is not really an aunt, but a cousin of Ma’s. Her mother was rich and Ma’s mother was poor. But my grandmother was as sharp as a tack even if she couldn’t read and Aunt Iris’s mother never had two thoughts to rub together, even though she had three servants just to look after her house.

“You should call me Geok Huay, Auntie, please,” I said. “With family, there’s no need for all this ‘Jade’.”

I spoke in an especially Chinese accent just to annoy her. Aunt Iris’s face went prune-like.

“Oh, but Jade is such a pretty name,” she said. “And ‘Geok Huay’, you know!” She looked as if my name were a toad that had dropped into her cup of tea. “‘Geok Huay’ in the most glamorous city in the world, in the twentieth century! It has rather an absurd sound to it, doesn’t it?”

“No more absurd than Bee Hoon,” I said. “I’ve always wished I could name a daughter of mine Bee Hoon.”

A vein in Aunt Iris’s temples twitched.

“It means ‘beautiful cloud’,” I said dreamily. “Why doesn’t Uncle Gerald ever call you Bee Hoon, Auntie?”

Aunt Iris said hastily:

“Well, never mind–you’d best take the cake, my dear. Are you sure you don’t want sandwiches as well?”

I was not at all sure I did not want sandwiches. I said I would order some just in case, and ordered a whole stack of them: ham and salmon and cheese and cucumber. Aunt Iris watched me deplete the stack in smiling discontent.

“Greedy little creature!” she tittered. “I would rap your knuckles for stuffing yourself, but you rather need feeding. You are a starveling little slip of a thing, aren’t you? Rose and Clarissa, now, have lovely figures. They are just what real women should look like, don’t you think?”

“You mean they have bosoms and I don’t,” I thought, but did not say. It didn’t seem worth trying to enunciate through a mouthful of sandwich.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo
The Caramel Macchiato Kiss, by Jennifer Montgomery.

A cute romance novella about Callie, who’s starting college and also starting as a barista, and her romance with Justin, the sweet but ever-so-slightly-mysterious boy she meets after hours. They bond over their mutual love of hot caramel and dislike of actual coffee. This is pure comfort reading, high on likability and low on conflict; needless to say, Justin’s secret is the opposite of dark. Sweet and fluffy as a caramel macchiato.

The Caramel Macchiato Kiss (The Coffee Shop Romances Book 1)

The Italian Soda Summer, by Jennifer Montgomery

The second in the Coffee Shop Romances series, but you could read it first. Maddie, a college student, falls for Alessandro, a grad student who will only be in town for the summer. Though still sweet, this one has more of a melancholy tinge; the characters not only feel like real people, they feel like real college students, sometimes pretentious, sometimes moody, sometimes idealistic. The romance progresses largely through earnest yet entertaining conversations about art and life and so forth. It still has a comforting feel, but it’s got more meat to it than the first novella. Very enjoyable.

The Italian Soda Summer (The Coffee Shop Romances Book 2)
Mea culpa: "To yard sale" is real slang meaning "to fall down." However, it comes from skiing/snowboarding, when a violent fall scatters your equipment like junk spread out on a lawn for a yard sale. Very witty and intuitively clear in that context! The context in Ward's book was a guy who was stumbling around his apartment either naked or in pajamas, I forget which. Nothing would have scattered had he keeled over.

Lover Revealed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 4) is the one with the human cop hero and the sad virgin vampire heroine. I actually liked the heroine, Marissa. The hero, Butch, was a total jackass. You could not have come up with a better example of how "alpha male" traits taken to extremes are actually asshole traits.

Butch had one of the stupidest conflicts I've ever come across in a romance novel. He's human and if his vampire girlfriend drinks his blood, he'll DIE. So she drinks from a vampire friend instead, which is how vampires normally feed. Butch is jealous because feeding has sexual overtones, and demands that she drink from him instead, even though it will KILL HIM. He gets so demanding about it and furious at her drinking from someone other than him that his poor girlfriend, who doesn't want to KILL HIM, starts starving herself!

So he would rather DIE by forcing the woman he supposedly loves to KILL HIM, thus leaving her alone, heartbroken, and horribly guilty, than have her perform a mildly sexual act with a friend that she needs to do TO LIVE.

Admittedly, this is called out as stupid in the book. But it's also portrayed that it's totally natural for Butch, a MANLY MANLY MAN, to prefer death to having his girlfriend have a relationship with another man which she has no choice over and does not regard as sexual (though Butch does.)

There was a nicely effective bit of body horror when Butch is infected with eevil and his come turns black. YIKES.

Bad medicine: Do not cram stuff into people's mouths if they're having a seizure!

Quote chosen by randomly opening book: "I threatened the king's life to ahvenge your honor!"

Lover Awakened (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 3) was my favorite. The hero of this one, Zsadist-- just pause to admire that-- is not an asshole. He's a physically and emotionally scarred survivor of kidnapping and repeated rape, who thinks he's too damaged to be anything but a killer and has some serious hang-ups about sex. Within the completely over the top context of the book, I have to say that this was handled pretty realistically and sensitively. And also milked for maximum angst. The heroine, Bella, is sexually assertive and mostly rescues herself. Very nice!

Zsadist's twin brother, Phury-- just pause to admire that-- has possibly the all-time best "how I lost my leg" story. Incidentally, a number of the male vampires are disabled, sometimes with magical compensation but often not. I liked this aspect of the series.

Bad medicine: If you've been injected with a drug, vomiting won't "get it out of your system." It's in your bloodstream, not your stomach.

Quote chosen by randomly opening book: Before Zsadist left, he took one last look at the fish tank. The food was almost gone now, snipped off the surface by little gaping mouths, mouths that came at it from the underside. (I like this, actually. Zsadist is feeling triggered and unsettled and not consciously noticing it, but everything around him has taken on a slightly sinister tinge.)

In Lover Unbound (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 5), we learn that Vishous-- just pause to admire that-- is canonically bisexual and has a crush on Butch. Sadly, this is the book about his romance with a woman, Jane, a doctor who gets kidnapped to tend Vishous' wounds. The romance made no sense in this one. Vishous is traumatized by early noncon same-sex encounters so now he can only have sex by dominating women in completely consensual BDSM settings, and he and Jane have sweet banter and then he repeatedly dubcons her but it's OK because she consented, sort of, and then he subs for her in penance for... something. What? It also turns out that he knows how to resurrect the dead, which may have been set up in previous books but seemed out of the blue in this one. Bonus WTF "happy ending."

Bad medicine: You STILL don't stuff things in people's mouths if they have a seizure!

Quote chosen by randomly opening book: Butch's jaw dropped and he pulled a bobble.
Sometimes I worry that I am a jaded reader who has lost the capacity to be boggled by a book. Then something like Lover Revealed comes along, and I realize that no, I can TOTALLY still be boggled. I am sincerely amazed that this series was published by a traditional publisher. Not because it’s terrible. (It is, sort of, but it definitely has its virtues as well.) But because it’s so utterly cracktastic and bizarre.

How do I even describe the whacked-out id-fest that is this book…?

It’s about a brotherhood of ginormously muscular vampires. Like these guys: (NOT WORKSAFE.) A lot of scenes in the book would look basically like that if drawn, in fact.

They are manly, manly, manly vampires. Who do man things. They are possessive and alpha. Manly! Muscular! Into brand names! When they bond, their sweat smells like Old Spice. And they wear very, very expensive brand-name clothes. And use manly slang.

Best of all, they have manly, manly names. ACTUAL NAMES: Vishous. Phury. Rhage. Rehvenge. Xhex (the lone manly female vampire. I presume this is pronounced Sex.) Tehrror. Hhurt. Tohrture. Ahgony. Zsadist.


They spend their time male-bonding, fucking, angsting, ogling each other’s beautiful yet manly bodies (and faces, and clothes, and hair), and hunting vampire-killers who are wusses who smell like baby powder. You’d think their manly, manly, manliness would be shown to better effect if they had opponents who weren’t ludicrously overmatched.

The worldbuilding consists of the letter h. A truly cool vampire does not avenge a loved one's death - he ahvenges it. They don't have contests like mere mortals - they have cohntehsts. And only a plebe would go into seclusion when she could experience the far more special sehclusion. And so forth. An especially manly man is phearsom.

This book has more homoeroticism than many novels I’ve read in which men were fucking each other on-page. The Brotherhood vampires are constantly touching each other, sprawled naked on a bed with each other, discussing each other's sex loves, popping giant boners around each other, and admiring each other’s swelling muscles.

Except for two of them (who get a canon romance later, good for you, J. R. Ward), they are canonically straight. Straight, I tell you! These are heterosexual romances. In theory. Here is an actual excerpt from Butch’s totally heterosexual POV.

"My flesh," he whispered.

He seemed to hesitate before turning to Butch. Then he pivoted and their eyes met. As candlelight flickered over V’s hard face and got caught in his diamond irises, Butch felt his breath get tight: At that moment, his roommate looked as powerful as a god… and maybe even as beautiful.

Vishous stepped in close and slid his hand from Butch’s shoulder to the back of his neck. “Your flesh,” V breathed. Then he paused, as if asking for something.

Without thinking, Butch tilted his chin up, aware that he was offering himself, aware that he… oh, fuck. He stopped his thoughts, completely weirded out by the vibe that had sprung up from God only knew where.

In slow motion Vishous’s dark head dropped down and there was a silken brush as his goatee moved against Butch’s throat.

With delicious precision, V’s fangs pressed against the vein that ran up from Butch’s heart, then slowly, inexorably, punched through skin. Their chests merged.

Butch closed his eyes and absorbed the feel of it all, the warmth of their bodies so close, the way V’s hair felt soft on his jaw, the slide of a powerful male arm as it slipped around his waist. On their own accord, Butch’s hands left the pegs and came to rest on V’s hips, squeezing that hard flesh, bringing them together from head to foot. A tremor went through one of them. Or maybe… shit, it was more like they both shuddered.

This is part of a climactic initiation scene in which all of the Black Dagger Brotherhood fondle and then punch Butch, then tell him to turn around and face the wall. Honest to God, I had to go back and re-read several paragraphs to figure out what Ward meant to have going on next if it wasn’t a gangbang. It sounded exactly like a slightly euphemistic description of an orgy.

My best guess on how the Black Dagger Brotherhood came to be is that the author took as her inspirations Tom of Finland, gangsta rap videos circa MTV, and the Gucci men’s wear catalogue, then smoked a giant doobie and wrote a vampire novel.

The result is completely rhidiculous, yet strangely rheadable. I read the whole thing in a day and am now halfway through Lover Awakened, the bhook about Zsadist. Send help. And an h-remover.

Lover Revealed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 4)
This is the third book in a series about con artists in fantasyland. In the first two books, the hero, Locke Lamora, was carrying a torch for his unseen lost love, Sabetha. All we knew about Sabetha was that she had red hair, they'd known each other since they were kids, and she was the only female member of his gang of thieves. In Republic of Thieves, we finally meet Sabetha.

On the one hand, it's hard for any character to live up to two fat books of build-up. On the other hand, Lynch is generally good at creating female characters, though he has mixed results in terms of what he does with them. They have a tendency to meet horrifying ends. (There's a particularly egregious example in the first book. To be fair, it's not typical of the series in general. But it made such a bad impression that I nearly didn't finish the book.) But they are also often vivid, interesting, and not defined by their relationships with men. I am especially fond of Zamira Drakasha, pirate captain and doting mom.

So I had hopes for Sabetha. Unfortunately, I did not like her, her relationship with Locke, or Locke when he was interacting with her. Cut for spoilers and crankiness. Read more... )

It made me realize that something I look for in fictional romance is for the couple to bring out each other's best sides, not their worst. I don't necessarily mean in a moral sense. I have a particular soft spot for amoral assassin couples. But the relationship should make the characters more interesting, more themselves, not less.

I initially liked Miles and Ekaterin as a couple in Komarr, because I thought the relationship was doing exactly that. But in the post-Civil Campaign books, it seemed like Ekaterin had met exactly the fate she didn't want: she had become swallowed up by Miles' life. Not that being a mother isn't important, but she was a mother in Komarr, too. But that wasn't all she was.

Gaudy Night, of course, is not only an example of a couple being more interesting and true to themselves together than they are separately, but is explicitly about that phenomenon, and its opposite.

What are some stories with couples who brought out the best or most true aspects of each other? What are stories where they brought out the worst, or where their individuality became subsumed into couple-ness?
Please recommend some M/F genre romance novels which break the conventional wisdom on the rules of the genre. I'm particularly interested in recent books, like published within the last 5-10 years.

(Genre romance = books published as romance novels. Books which contain a love story but were published as something else, such as science fiction, are not what I'm looking for as they have different rules.)

1. Books where the romantic lead is not an asshole. He doesn't domineer over, sneer at, have contempt for, dismiss, try to control, blackmail, kidnap, or try to rape the heroine, EVER. If he starts out doing so and then reforms, he's still an asshole and the book is disqualified.

2. Books where the hero is not an "alpha male." That is, he's not cocky, not wealthy, not domineering or controlling, doesn't have a traditionally manly occupation, isn't aggressive, has some traditionally feminine interests, etc. (For instance, the hero of Cotillion.)

3. Any "bad girl/good boy" romance.

4. Any books where the heroine has traits or an occupation which are traditionally masculine. Lots of contemporary romance novels have heroines who are professionals, businesswomen, etc - I don't mean that. A heroine who is a criminal, a military helicopter pilot (Suzanne Brockmann did that), or has "alpha male" traits herself would be unusual. Or a heroine who's had lots of sex previously, enjoyed it, and doesn't feel guilty about it.

5. Any books where the hero is sexually submissive and/or the heroine is sexually dominant, and that's not the entire point of the book. (ie, not Natural Law, where that's the entire premise. Suzanne Brockmann's Dark of Night would count, since there's lots going on other than Decker getting off on Tracy giving him orders.)

6. Any books which have an unusual level of questioning of gender roles, characters with serious previous relationships that didn't end in death or misery, books where the hero and heroine are completely equal and he never dominates her, books where the hero and heroine have actual cultures and religions (and that's not the entire point of the book), etc.

They don't have to hit all these points, just some. But if, for instance, the heroine is a thief but the hero is an asshole, or the hero is a sweet computer geek but the heroine is a naive virgin, please say so.
Brandon Bettleyoun left his reservation decades ago, driven by the message in his early life of “You’ll never be anything, because you’re Indian.” He cut off his braids and dedicated himself to success. […] When a college student from the nearby college comes to interview him, she begins to awaken in him feelings he had forgotten in his striving to be more than he believed he could be. Can this beautiful young woman from a small reservation in Idaho be the one to fill the emptiness he has endured for so long?

This erotic romance short story was was recommended to me in my post asking for recs for good self-published books as an antidote to all those romances with stereotypical Indians ravishing white women, usually with “Savage” in the title (and sometimes containing plagiarized material from, among other things, scholarly texts on black-footed ferrets.)

I did enjoy the story. It’s well-written, engaging, and sensual. I can’t speak to its authenticity, but the characters and setting felt believable. There are definitely no noble savages here. I can see why the reccer thought I’d like it— I particularly enjoy protagonists starring in genres in which they don’t often appear, and I have never before come across a genre romance (as opposed to a mainstream novel with romance in it) in which both hero and heroine are Native American. If you know of others, please comment to inform me.

But it’s tough to do a romance in a short story and not have it feel rushed— I think you usually need at least novelette length. It left me wanting more, in the “has Eagleday written anything longer?” sense. Alas, no. There are other short stories out, though. (Link NSFW – they’re erotica, several involving Native American traditional stories.) I’d love to see “Sioux Billionaire” expanded into a complete novel. But in the meantime, I did like it as a short. You might too.

Sins Of The Sioux Billionaire
Have been madly reading Milan on lunch breaks and late into the night; am now sleep-deprived. As predicted, I did like Unraveled the best due to Smite. But I enjoyed the whole series, with Unclaimed (the one with Mark and Jessica) my second-favorite. Milan's plotting, while tending to result in extremely happy endings, is unusually well-constructed for genre romance, and she also pays more attention to theme than one usually sees in the genre. I am excited to see her self-publishing successfully, because it means that she can push the genre boundaries even more.

Unveiled. The first in the series, in which the oldest brother, Ash, has come back to England after making his fortune to rescue his brothers from poverty and an abusive mother, but he was way too late to prevent them from taking major psychological damage. He's now on a mission of revenge on the family that didn't help them, and has taken over their title and their estate by exposing the lord's bigamous marriage and that his kids are bastards. Unbeknownst to Ash, the beautiful servant is actually the now-bastard daughter, on her own mission to track down dirt on him and protect her family.

Whew! Lots of plot there. Additionally, Ash is secretly dyslexic, which Milan milks for so much angst that I sometimes started laughing at how cleverly she managed to get every secret angst trope ever to plausibly relate to dyslexia. Seriously, it really was clever, but also a bit over the top. The angst in the other novels felt more organic. I liked this, but not as much as the other full-length novels.

Unlocked. A novella about a bullied lady and her now-guilty bully. I liked her a lot and him more than I would have expected, but it was so short that their relationship built too fast. Her characterization also seems completely different from what it was in Unveiled.

Unclaimed. The youngest brother, Mark, has written a bestselling gentleman's guide to chastity; Jessica, a down-on-her-luck prostitute, has been hired to seduce him to ruin his reputation. I really enjoyed this: very likable main couple, some good comedy (the "tupping for kittens" discussion cracked me up), and also good angst. The climactic duel was probably implausible, but so satisfying.


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