I am making a prude-post.
I am not sorry.
I am a little sad though.
I tend to be a vanilla reader. I make no apologies for this. I was raised on a diet of Protestant preaching and felt board Bible stories, with a healthy dollop of Baptist guilt thrown in for good measure.
One of the admonitions Mrs Miles, (she of the terrifying steely-eyed gaze, tweed two-piece suits and discordant Sunday School hymns she banged out with enthusiastic abandon on an ill-tuned piano every Sunday) was that God and Jesus were always watching. ALWAYS watching. Even when no one else was. And like Santa , they had a list – and if you didn’t want to go to hell – you should dang well make sure your name wasn’t on it. Also, every sin you commit, you are adding to the weight that Jesus carried when He died for you. Do you want to just keep adding to that weight for every sin you commit? Do you?
(Incidentally, we were a VERY well-behaved Sunday School…)
Whilst many of the terrifying traumas I suffered at the hand of Baptist Church, I have since shrugged off or repressed very comfortably thank you, (not the least of these being curried egg sandwiches, and stale biscuits stuck together with icing); the ‘Jesus is always watching you even when you’re alone’ one has always stuck with me. There was an adjunct to this rule, which was added to one particular Sunday morning when we’d all been horridly bratty, and that was ‘If Jesus came back right now, would you be comfortable in telling Him what you were doing?’
In my teens, in my mind, trying to explain to Jesus I was reading a sex scene in a book? An embarrassing and worst nightmare, that could possibly end in hell and damnation, was enough to keep me steering clear of them, and even when I was older, smexy times in books never held that much allure for me.
I used to avoid them completely, but really all that left me in the field of Romancelandia was vapid wallpaper Regency Romances (nothing is as good as Georgette Heyer) or ridiculous Inspirational/Christian Romances (A magic Bible + a Christian Doctor = HEA (or me, throwing up in my mouth)); Now, I tend toward books that have a low level of steam because even these days, my tolerance isn’t high.
It’s my own choice, I don’t inflict that opinion on anyone else, but it does lead me to my question: what in good gravy have they done to contemporary romance?
As a disclaimer though, my following diatribe doesn’t include Harlequin in any of this – because lets face it, if you can’t tell by the varying colours and themes of the sub-sub-genres, what kind of time you are in for in these books – then you are not smart and are you sure you can actually read..?
BUT contemporary romance in general?
Blerghh? what in the world is going on?
Do you remember when you would read a romance and there would be maybe one smexy scene in it? When it was generally at least past the 65% mark and if it was a little bit risqué, you might get another one/two at the very most?
Do you know what they filled the rest of the space up with?
I don’t know, say things like plot movement, relationship development and character growth?
Sometimes in extreme circumstances, they would include small details about life and other people who didn’t want to have sex with the heroine, and who weren’t there simply as tiny, shiny 2-dimensional lighthouse beacons that lent flattering and luminescent glows to the heroines/heroes finely cut features. I know, the mind boggles.
This leads me to the book in question: Nobody’s Baby But Mine, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (I would link to it – but frankly I am too mad to do it any favours.)
I know there are MANY other books that also fit this bill, but for better or worse, NBBM was the proverbial straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s back. It was the last one I snap-raged on and threw across the room, so it is the one I am dismembering. (pun intended.)
a rather accurate representation of me…
This was the third in a series, but could be read as a stand-a-lone. It also won numerous awards (which I didn’t realise until afterwards, otherwise it may have forewarned me).
I’ll give you the back of the book blurb:
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak when she was growing up, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Which means she must find someone very special to father her child. Someone who’s more comfortable working out his muscles than exercising his brain.
Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. But his champion good looks and down-home ways are deceiving. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on—and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.
It sounds fairly interesting right? Not too in-depth, but still intriguing.
My issue isn’t even the book really – the plot was mildly interesting, with an inversion of tropes: the heroine using the hero to get pregnant, without letting him know that was what her objective was. (I mean a little on the fuzzy side of ethical, sure, but not worth starting a war over…), A subsequent forced marriage and a house-mates situation, made the whole thing pretty interesting.
The characters were above average – Cal was supposed to be dumb jock, who ended up being a biology degree graduate, and Jane was not that annoying although I do feel her genius level intellect around physics was a bit Google-by-dot-point.
Secondary characters were more 2.5-dimensional, than 3 – with most of their plot antics revolving around the hero and heroine.
But no, all of this could be overlooked, if it wasn’t for the S-E-X. That’s sex, for those of you with spelling issues.
I should have been warned when less than 17% into the story, there was an initial scene. But it was part of the plot, so I let it slide.
From there however, the ridiculousness just continued.
If I was a science person, like Jane is SUPPOSED to be, I would make a cunningly veiled reference to the both plot and sex being representational of two vectors of magnitude and direction on adjacent sides of the romance parallelogram, The resultant being that as the diagonal, which passes through the intersection point of these two sides, shows the increase of sex scenes, there is a significant decrease in plot development.
What I actually mean is this:
12-14 sex scenes in one book that purports itself as contemporary romance is TOO MUCH.
Way too much.
Do you know how I know it is too much?
Because not only was I bored and mildly appalled, I think the author was too.
I also know this, because at one point, in the space of 3 paragraphs, the main characters had had sex no less than seven times including one particularly nausea-inducing description:
They ate a late lunch in bed, where they played sexual games with the juicy slices of an orange.
Ok – so my first thoughts is: ‘ewww’
My second thoughts is: doesn’t citrus sting? – and in which case ‘ow’
And thirdly – they have obviously had so much sex at this point that the author has:
- run out of generic descriptions of throbbing members;
- is just throwing random shit into a hat and pulling it out for inspiration;
- is so exhausted from making up smexy-times, she’s just phoning it in at this point.
With at least 13 sex scenes – even on the lower end of this, that averages like a scene every 50 pages – although it’s not like they were distributed that evenly; if that was the case, I could have avoided them better.
So tell me why. Why, in an innocuously entitled book, with a generically womens-fic cover, am I subject to this?
There are no warnings for this shit, and whilst I am ranting about this particular book – this isn’t an isolated event.
When did it become ok to substitute character growth for character’s growth?
I don’t care if people want to read that sort of crap, lets face it, there are millions of books in the world and a vast majority of them suck. Separating the wheat from the chaff, is what reviews, reading and book adventures are for.
I do care, when a blurb, cover, and general look of a book, leads me to believe it is one type of book, when in fact it is another sort completely. It’s probably just me – but I have no interest in encountering penis over my morning coffee.
Additionally, whilst bad books are the grist to the mill of Romancelandia, when there is no indicator from the outset that that is the kind of set up I am unwittingly walking into?
It kind of makes me cranky.
OK, maybe more than a little cranky.
Covers used to be a general indication of what sort of time you were in for. Large, shirtless men with abs for days, 8-day scruff and glistening forearms was usually a sign that the book probably wasn’t going to be an in-depth treatise on the rise and fall of the emancipation of women in the Byzantine period.*
I give you the following exhibits:
So, if you still bought those books and were SURPRISED when all the main characters seemed to do was have horribly and not-so-horribly described sex, well, you probably only had yourself to blame.
If I didn’t know about the authors propensity for penetration; (which I didn’t), and I hadn’t read any reviews about the book, (which I didn’t – although they were all so gushing I was beginning to wonder if I had read the same book as everyone else), how on the good green earth am I supposed to gather that very vital information from the cover?
I realise as I write and fume (it’s a duel-process-thing); I actually have two seperate issues here.
- Authors who write crap stories and substitute terrible and wince-inducing sex for character and plot development;
- Publishers who mislead the public about the aforementioned author’s crap stories, by wrapping them in harmless, innocuous covers to throw you off the scent.
I have raged and loudly complained about this book all week. I imagine my family is probably tired of hearing me harp on about it like a wharf-wife brandishing a 3-day old fish head; so I am laying it out in a post in the hope that I can get it all out of my system.
I do know I am instituting a steam tag on the books I read, indicating the amount/level of smexy times in the stories – because I am a ‘do unto others type’ of person (I know, it’s them Bible-roots.)
I think I am also cured in the short term in reading contemporary romance. I’m going North & South for a little while, to bring back the calm.
And I really can’t even begin to explain why it was THIS book in particular that sooo got my goat; but I think it has something to do with my betrayed reader-trust-thing. I was led to believe it was a certain type of book, and by the time I realised it wasn’t, I was knee-deep in climaxes and genitalia.
So that’s me…lamenting out into the ether.
Hopefully your book weeks went better than mine.
ValancyBlu: currently giving contemporary romance the stink eye.
*(I mean it could be – I know I’d be intrigued and slightly more interested in the emancipation of women in the Byzantine period, if that was indeed on the cover…)
Header Image: Woman Reading in a Cashmere Shawl – John Singer Sargent 1909