Monday, June 29, 2015

Cooking Up Romance Has Moved

Cooking Up Romance has moved to Wordpress! I just had to change my site url to get there. I'll keep the Blogger site up and running for a bit, but it won't be updated and all the old content is over at the new site anyway so please update your bookmarks and head over to:

If you subscribed via email, you will also need to resubscribe at the new site.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Blog meltdown

So...I'm just fine, but the blog is having a little bit of a meltdown. It's not entirely a bad thing because now I can fix some stuff that I didn't like, but it means that I'll probably be offline for a few days. Or a week. Ish. If you want to catch me, drop me an email or send me a DM on Twitter. And happy official summer!

See you next week!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Love Only Once by Johanna Lindsey 2015 TBR Challenge

The theme for this month's TBR Challenge was More Than One: a book by an author you have more than one of in your TBR pile. So I chose Love Only Once, the first book of Johanna Lindsey's acclaimed Malory Family series. I also have Tender Rebel (which I'm trying to read, but good grief is stupid Scottish dialect making it difficult) and Gentle Rogue, which is the one I actually wanted to read because PIRATES. But I was told I should read the Malory books in order because we meet the hero of Gentle Rogue for the first time in Love Only Once. James Malory is heroine Regina Ashton's uncle and he comes into the story the SECOND time the heroine gets kidnapped in this book. Yes, that's right. She gets kidnapped twice in the same book by two different men. It's delicious. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The basic story here is that virgin orphan Regina Ashton is kidnapped by mistake by the former lover of a woman whose carriage she borrows to do a quick errand. Nicholas Eden is a dissolute rake: a despoiler of young aristocratic maidens and drunken racer of horses. Though Regina is returned unsoiled to her family, of course the two are found out and society's rules dictate that Regina and Nicholas must marry. This is to Regina's delight (she thinks he's hot) and Nicholas's horror (he has a DARK SEKRIT that he thinks he needs to protect Regina from). Of course, all works out in the end.

For any lover of historical romance, this plot is a familiar one. That said, there are a couple differences here between Love Only Once and some, in my view, worse examples of this plot. First, I think it's poking subtle fun at the kidnapped virgin trope. Regina is kidnapped by the rake, who thinks she is his former mistress, and returned unmolested to her family. Plus she is actually attracted to the hero and not at all scared (really, really not scared, not just trying to be brave). This is reinforced by a SECOND kidnapping--this time at the hand of her own uncle. That's gotta be a joke, right? Look at The Flame and the Flower for a different example: frightened, kidnapped virgin orphan is mistaken for a prostitute and raped by her captor. Definitely not what happens here (page 64, Nicholas starts).

"I want to kiss you again before you go."


"Just a good-night kiss."


His free hand cupped her cheek. He hadn't bothered to collect his gloves or hat before they left his house, and his bare fingers were hot against her skin. She couldn't move, and she waited breathlessly for him to steal the kiss she had refused him.

He did, his lips moving in to fasten on hers for a kiss that was nothing like any kiss she'd had before. Warm and masterful, his lips tasted hers until she thought she would explode.

She waits breathlessly, his lips are warm and masterful, she thinks she's going to explode. Though she says no, she's standing on her uncle's front step at this point. She could summon help if she desired it, duck his kiss, slap him--these are options we've all exercised at some point, right? But she really wants Nicholas. Not that this isn't problematic (she still said no--he still disregarded it), but it's a pretty mild example for this point in the history of historical romance. And when they do finally get to the point of sex, the heroine is not exactly the sexual aggressor, but she is most definitely a willing participant (page 130):

Deep down Reggie knew that Nicholas was not going to be satisfied with just kissing her, not this time. But a voice inside her demanded to know why she wanted to stop him.

He was going to be her husband, wasn't he? Why should she deny him anything--especially when she didn't want to deny him anything? 

They go on to have mutually satisfying sex in the garden. Then later in the book, Nicholas "forces himself on her" which I put in quotes because it's one of the milder forced seduction scenes I've seen. Plus Reggie gets playfully chased around the bedroom and throws a book at Nicholas' head before succumbing. Then this in the aftermath (page 313):

What a marvelous way to be awakened, Reggie thought, snuggling closer to the solid length of her husband. And she wasn't tired, even though she had been loved ardently into the small hours of the night. Not tired. Feeling wonderful. She would have to insist he force himself on her more often.

It may seem like I'm going out of my way to excuse Nicholas' actions, but this book was published in 1985. During my recent Utterly Unscientific Summer Saturday Series Sex Survey, I've been exposed to many, many examples of women feeling guilty about their desires, being forced by their heroes into kisses and more, and there was very little premarital sex. By contrast, the historical romance of the period, including Love Only Once, looks almost progressive. When I expressed this opinion on Twitter this week, romance historian Kelly Faircloth confirmed that in Janice Radway's 1984 book, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, some of the women interviewed about romance expressed a similar sentiment.

Between Regina's own self-confidence, her station in life, her financial resources, and the protection of her family, she is a formidable woman despite being a type (virgin orphan) that historical romances often portray as exceedingly vulnerable. In a society that gives very little autonomy or agency to women, Regina is constrained in a lot of ways, but she twists those constraints to get exactly what she wants (marriage to the dreamy-gorgeous Nicholas). I liked that she had everyone wrapped around her little finger, the sly little fox. Nicholas is another matter. If you're a reader who reads for heroes, you'll likely not be terribly happy with this book. Nicholas is obtuse, whiney and petulant. He eventually gets over it thankfully, but I doubt he'll ever be anyone's favorite hero.

So that's Love Only Once. My understanding is that the knowledge gained about James Malory is worth the read before getting to Gentle Rogue. And this truly wasn't a bad book. I'll admit to some trepidation going into these older romances, but this one is pretty harmless, if not necessarily brilliant or astonishingly well-written. It certainly can't hold a candle to my favorites from this period of romance and I admit to not fully getting the Johanna Lindsey hype. But I will press on with at least the next two books of the series. Because PIRATES.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Darling Beast Joint Review with Ana from Immersed in Books

Today I'm reviewing Elizabeth Hoyt's Darling Beast with Ana Coqui from Immersed in Books. This has become a regular series for us, though we're not on any specific schedule. Thus far we have reviewed Living in Sin by Anastasia Vitsky and Entreat Me and Radiance by Grace Draven. We hope you enjoy reading our chatter at each other as much as we've been enjoying writing it! And in case you missed it, my monthly column with Alexis Hall is up at All About Romance. We reviewed Ginn Hale's The Lord of White Hell and we were thrilled to be joined this month by Willaful.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s 7th Maiden Lane book, Darling Beast, features the previous heroine’s brother, Apollo Greaves, who was sprung from Bedlam by the hero of the previous book, Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield, and is now on the run from the law while assisting his friend in rebuilding Harte’s Folly, the pleasure garden that burned at the end of the 6th book. Lily Stump was once a sought after comedic actress employed by Harte who finds herself squatting in the ruined theater on the grounds, when she is blackballed at other theaters. When Lily’s son stumbles upon Apollo working in the garden, Apollo is unable to speak, the legacy of an attack by a guard during his incarceration. Before these two can find their happy ending, they must clear Apollo’s name and ensure Lily’s son’s safety.

Trigger warning for rape and spousal abuse. 

Elisabeth: Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series contains some really remarkable books in the early part of the series, but with Darling Beast, we seem to be starting a new story arc, so doesn’t seem like a bad place for newcomers to jump in.

Ana: I have read most of Hoyt’s Prince books but I had not kept up with the Maiden Lane series. I agree that this a great jump on point. While I missed some of the connections between the secondary characters, it was very easy to follow without having read the first 6 books.

Elisabeth: Well, you should remedy that! Thief of Shadows, the 4th book of the series is definitely one of my favorite historical romances of all time. Assuming you enjoyed this one, that is!

Ana:  I did enjoy it. It wasn’t perfect, I had some issues with a couple things, but I’m definitely planning on going back and filling in the gaps. And since I had the ARC to Dearest Rogue, book 8, I read that as soon as I finished Darling Beast.  

Elisabeth: Well, let’s start with issues then and move on to what we liked. What stood out for you as less than ideal?

Ana:  My biggest struggle with the book is that one of the major conflicts Apollo and Lily have is over his identity. First she doesn’t know who he is and that keeps them apart for a bit, but then the biggest issue is once she realizes who he is, she just can’t see them building a lasting relationship. She has a lot of reasons and evidence for that, and I felt that it was essentially set aside and glossed over in the end. Having read Dearest Rogue and having looked over some of the synopsis for the other stories, I now know cross-class romance is a recurring theme in the Maiden Lane books, but I wanted a better answer to her objections.

Elisabeth: Yes, I can see that. I guess I excused it because they both had life-altering experiences that came full circle at the end of the book. The resolution of Apollo’s inheritance issues and Lily’s concerns about the continued safety of her child were things that had been hanging over both of them for so long. I think it made sense for them to find solace in each other after going through that together. That sounds pretty thin, but I honestly didn’t think about it at the time.

Ana:  I know that I loved the Epilogue but I had been highlighting all passages where Lily worries that it surprised me when it was resolved by just saying...look my family accepts you. I had so many questions about Lily’s future and career. (Thankfully some of those were answered in Dearest Rogue).

Elisabeth: I didn’t highlight any of that stuff. I think I saw her objections as a rational reaction to trauma inflicted by a member of the aristocracy, but figured that once that trauma was resolved, her issues would be resolved. And Apollo is clearly nothing like that other aristocrat in any way.

Ana: You are totally right about that. That is a huge part of why it works. He is able to show her that he isn’t that man, and won’t behave that way.  I did love how both of them were so good at their jobs, and struggled with how limiting aristocratic views on work are. I thought that was a fantastic connection for them to have.

Elisabeth: I’m actually kind of struggling with this discussion because Elizabeth Hoyt is one of those writers that I just don’t think about very much. I mean, I’ve read all her books and she does seem to gravitate toward certain themes (finding meaningful work is definitely one, non-traditional routes to parenting is another), but I just enjoy the world she creates and so...get kind of lost in that? I feel a little guilty about it honestly because I’m consuming this series in such a mindless way. But that I suppose is a gift in itself. It’s so rare that I take off my critical hat long enough to just enjoy a romance any more so I have to give Hoyt credit for being the first writer to do that for me in a LONG time.

Ana: I think when I was reading tons and tons of historicals I had a tendency to do that too. I read so few of them now, that I can’t help but look out for some those issues. I know that when I was consuming the Prince books, I didn’t think about the class imbalances in some of those.
So did you have any issues or did it just all work for you?

Elisabeth: I think it all worked for me. I wasn’t cognizant of any points that I objected to, though I was a bit taken aback by a fairly graphic description of spousal abuse near the end of the book. It’s definitely something that people with sensitivities in that area should be aware of because it’s hinted at throughout, but it does get fairly explicitly violent at one point in flashback.

Ana: Yes, you are right. Other potentially triggering moments were when Apollo talks about how he was assaulted and how others in Bedlam were treated.

Elisabeth: Oh, here’s a question. It seemed like perhaps at one point Hoyt was implying that Apollo had been raped? Or did you not pick up that? It’s not explicitly stated, I don’t think?

Ana: Oh, I picked up on that. I think I highlighted it because it is so rare to see that come up in a book. He really struggles thinking about or describing how he was treated. But he does describe one of the guards dropping the falls of his pants while he was being held down.

Elisabeth: Yes, I wasn’t sure, but you’re right. I think we are led to understand that that he has experienced sexual abuse in addition to being beaten. I do see rape backstories more often in m/m romance and with heroines, but yeah, more rare when it’s a hero in m/f romance, especially an adult hero.

So what worked for you about Darling Beast?

Ana:  The parallel story in the epigraphs.  Hoyt starts off each chapter with piece from “The Minotaur”. I usually tend to ignore those pieces of poetry and such at the start of chapters because I just want to rush back into the main story, but as the book went on I found myself slowing down and taking the time to read the snippets.

Elisabeth: Um. I skipped them. All of them. I’m a terrible reader! Why were these more interesting than usual?

Ana: I think I was annoyed at them at the beginning, I even posted on twitter asking if anyone bothered to read them.  But I think I read one by mistake and it started alerting me that while there is a Beauty and the Beast element to the story, it was really going to focus a lot more on the question of identity, inheritance and violence.  

Elisabeth: It sounds like I should go back and read them. Maybe I will be less annoyed by them if I read them all at once.

Ana: Some of them were really long!  So what else worked for you?

Elisabeth: I don’t have a lot of historical romance series that I follow. I never got sucked into the Cynsters or Spindle Cove, for example. So my pleasure in this was seeing some familiar faces like the Duke of Wakefield, who is a fascinating character, and then being introduced to a few new faces that I’m DEEPLY curious about and will, I’m assuming, get their own book at some point.

Ana:  Are you talking about Montgomery?

Elisabeth: *bounces up and down* YES YES YES! Gosh he’s odd. Just the kind of hero I like. His actions in this book are almost inexplicable. I can’t wait to find out what drives him.

Ana: I had the same reaction to him in this book. I was really attracted to his near malevolence and manipulative dandyness.  He reminded me a lot of the Duke of Darling in Anna Cowan’s Untamed. Dangerous and easy to underestimate.  You will see a lot more of him in the next book.  But I was surprised to discover that the book after that is not his book, but it is someone connected to him.  

Elisabeth: I’ve found this series to be like that a bit. I guess until I discussed this with you, I wasn’t as attuned to how up and down it has been. The 5th book was a little more of a throwaway for me too: kind of a bridge between Thief of Shadows and Duke of Midnight. None of them have been bad, I don’t think. It’s just that some of the characters are total stand-outs and other have been less so. I think this one may be one of those “less so” ones for me.

Ana: The romance in the next book worked a lot more for me.

Elisabeth: And I have been eagerly awaiting Trevillion’s book so I’m very much looking forward to starting that one. He’s a huge character in the previous three books and he has changed a lot.

Ana: Has Harte been in a lot of the previous books? Because he is the hero of book after Trevillion’s.

Elisabeth: Oh, yeah. He was a big character in the 6th book especially when the Folly burns down so that makes sense really. Still, I’m impatient for Montgomery now!

Ana: You will have to buzz me when you read the next book. Because I have thoughts.

Elisabeth: Definitely! So any final thoughts about Darling Beast?

Ana: I think it was charming and a very enjoyable read despite the hard topics it dealt with. I am glad to have read it and reconnected with Hoyt through it. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed her books.

Elisabeth: Yes, dealing with hard topics in a way that still allows the story to work is something that I think Hoyt excels at. And I love that it happens within a story that still works as a romance. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lily and Apollo, but I enjoyed their love story.

A lifelong genre reader, Ana grew up reading fantasy, sci-fi & mystery novels in Puerto Rico. Ana discovered comics in college before finally wandering into the Romance section a few years ago after bawling through yet another YA dystopian series. A recovering English and History double major, Ana is now a school librarian, mother of two geeky girls and a pastor's wife in Rochester, NY. When she is not reading or writing reviews, she is knitting or planning her next trip. She writes about books at her blog: Immersed in Books and on Twitter as @anacoqui.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Flame of Diablo, 1980 Harlequin Presents #2U5S

When I started this project a month or so ago, Jenny Haddon said this 1980 Sara Craven book was the first Harlequin to include "full docking procedures" (Haddon's term, which I adore). However, Possession, the 1979 Violet Winspear Harlequin Presents I reviewed two weeks ago, included married sex. Possession may have been published after this book, Flame of Diablo, by Mills & Boon (I can't figure that out) but as a Harlequin it was published a bit later--Possession is #321 and Flame of Diablo is #331. I'm not sure I care precisely which was first though. I'm more interested in the evolution of sexual contact in categories than I am in the "first" everything. Though it's possible that Flame of Diablo is actually the first Harlequin to include premarital sex because it, well, does. Because the hero and heroine aren't married at the time of sexual contact, nor do they have any plans to be. It's also fully consensual on the heroine's part. Revolutionary! But we'll get to that.

The premise of Flame of Diablo is that Rachel Crichton, a blonde, beautiful London actress, has been sent to Colombia by her sick grandfather to retrieve her brother Mark, who has gone to seek his fortune in defiance of the grandfather's wishes. When Rachel shows up in Bogota, a friend of Mark's tells her that he might be heading to Diablo to seek out a precious, but cursed emerald. Rachel attempts to hire Vitas de Mendoza to guide her into the wilderness, but of course she is afraid of her "powerful reaction to him" and sets off with a different local guide, who turns out to be not a nice guy.
Trigger warning for rape after the jump (brief, but violent).

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sirocco, 1983 Harlequin Presents #2U5S

This morning I'm thrilled to bring you a guest post by Willaful, one of my very favorite romance bloggers and a long-time category romance reader. Her post is on 1983 Harlequin Presents SIROCCO by Anne Mather. We're skipping ahead a bit in time because this post builds on some of what we discussed last week: the prevalence in older Harlequins of heroines getting physical with men not the hero. And with that I leave you in Willa's capable hands. ~ Elisabeth

I've been fascinated by the sexual, political, and historical mores of Harlequin Presents since I started reading them again, after a 30 year hiatus, so Elisabeth's summer project is right up my alley. Sirocco is noteworthy for a very early mention of oral sex, although it's not the earliest. (That is generally thought to be the rather memorably named Antigua Kiss by Anne Weale.) But it's interesting in other ways as well.

Our heroine is Rachel, a young woman who works for her living, despite having a trust fund and a wealthy father. (Or is he?!) She's happily engaged to Roger, a name that only a man who will not be the hero would ever have in a Harlequin Presents. (To give you an idea of Roger, he tries to convince Rachel that her housemate and close friend is too fat to be a bridesmaid.)

Rachel discovers that no good deed goes unpunished when she tries to help a man she sees lying unconscious in a car. That man, Alex Roche, appears to become obsessed with Rachel, and begins to insinuate himself -- sometimes by force -- into every area of her life.

In her commentary on Charlotte Lamb's Possession, Elisabeth wrote:

"First, one place where I'm starting to notice a divergence in the way physical intimacy is portrayed in these older categories is in the characters' experiences with people not their potential partners. These days, it seems like neither hero nor heroine is permitted any kind of sexual contact with a different character, while in the older books, I'm not sure I've read one yet that didn't have some element of a love triangle involving at least kissing."

I've noticed this before in older Harlequins: Janet Dailey's Sweet Promise, from 1975, opens with the heroine genuinely in love with another man, and quite interested in being physical with him. In Sirocco, Rachel is a virgin, which is pretty much de rigueur for an unmarried heroine. (Although in a very early Anne Mather Presents, The Pleasure And The Pain, the hero and heroine had been lovers in the past.) However, her fiance has "taught her ways to please him without their going to bed together." This is made slightly more explicit later in the story:

"'Oh sweetheart, I've missed you,' he murmured, drawing her reluctant hands to his body. 'Hmm, that feels good. Go on, go on: make love to me...'"

Although this example of sex with a man not the hero (in the middle of the story, even) is historically fascinating in itself, it leads to something even more noteworthy: Rachel gets fed up with not having her own needs met.

"She couldn't dispel a linger sense of dissatisfaction that had no real foundation in their association, something that had not changed over the months they had been together. It concerned the -- from her point of view -- totally unsatisfactory sexual relationship they shared, and Roger's apparent indifference to her needs."

"When Roger joined her at the breakfast table, he was looking decidedly pleased with himself, and Rachel couldn't help the uncharitable supposition that he wouldn't be feeling that way if he had had to be satisfied with her kisses."

Of course, this is at least partially attributed to Alex awakening her. Still, it's a far cry from the more modern Harlequin Presents heroine, who frequently has had no real sexual desires to speak of before meeting her hero. (And who will almost never have sex again -- especially not enjoyable sex -- if they've parted. This is just starting to change in the line, and many long-time readers absolutely hate that.)

Some of what goes on between Alex and Rachel is non-consensual, including some actual physical restraint. But by the time they have sex, she's mostly into it; consent is not crystal clear, but it's a very mild forced seduction. And even while she's being swept away by passion, Rachel is aware of her needs being considered for the first time:

"This was not at all like being with Roger, she thought hazily, as Alex's mouth beat a searing path across her breasts, then followed downward, over the quivering flatness of her diaphragm to the softness of her stomach. Roger had never given any thought to her pleasure, only his own, and while she told herself that Roger had had more respect for her, it rang a little hollowly in her ears.

Even so, she flinched in sudden panic when Alex's mouth sought a more intimate invasion, and he gave a soft laugh as he slid over her to find her mouth again. 'You have a lot to learn,' he breathed against her lips. 'But we will come to that later.'"

And the focus on Rachel's satisfaction continues:

"It was all over too soon. Rachel had scarcely begun to enjoy the pleasurable sensations Alex's thrusting body was evoking before she sensed his shuddering climax, and he slumped heavily on top of her. Not so different after all, she reflected bitterly, remembering Roger's groaning convulsions, and the artificial mood of bonhomie that always followed them."

This is unexpectedly realistic in a genre chock full of first time orgasms. But don't worry -- he makes it up to her.

The emphasis on domineering men who don't take no for an answer in older category romance is generally taken to be an expression of the shame women felt around their sexuality. It's interesting to see that in at least some respects, older category heroines may actually have been allowed a less restricted sexuality, one that isn't dependent on one specific man to awaken and fulfill it.

I should warn readers that Sirocco is a slightly disguised "Sheikh" story and sometimes gets uncomfortably racist. I'd say it was a product of its times, in which anti-Arab sentiment was prevalent -- but then lots of things haven't changed all that much in 40 years, have they?

Monday, June 1, 2015

For Real Lemon Meringue Pie

About six months ago, I got an email from romance writer Alexis Hall. He wanted to know if I'd consider developing a lemon meringue pie recipe for this kinky book he was writing about a chef and a doctor. Of course I agreed and therefore ended up helping with this book, For Real (out everywhere today), in a super small and amusing way. But since I kinda qualify as a beta reader, I'm not going to do a full review. I just want to share some personal and HELLO BIASED reflections on why I thought this was a terrific book. And also pictures of pie. You've been warned.

There are lots of things I loved about For Real, mainly the large age gap between the heroes, the realistic, engaging portrayals of BDSM within the context of a really romantic story and the dueling first person, present/past point of view which could have gone really far wrong, but didn't. Toby is a short-order cook and he's believably, adorably, relatably nineteen to Laurie's jaded, cynical, tired thirty-seven. In a quirky way, their relationship kind of works because they have such a large gap in their experience--with life, with work and yes, with kink. When I discovered that Toby is the dominant in the book, I liked it even better because it's so not the typical romance pattern. Toby is a new dominant and has lots of questions, but also lots of enthusiasm which works for Laurie as nothing else has in recent memory. If I were writing a real review, which I'm not, I'd also go into how the book makes some really insightful points about sex and kink in romance.
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.
Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable.  Everything Laurie can’t remember being.
Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.
The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.
It can’t be real.
- See more at:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.
Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable.  Everything Laurie can’t remember being.
Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.
The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.
It can’t be real.
- See more at:

And scene with the lemon meringue pie recipe in it is a very kinky, very sexy scene. It's also creative, funny and tender. But it's not actually my favorite. For all that For Real is a smoking hot BDSM romance, it's also incredibly romantic. The scene that melted me was when Laurie takes Toby to a dinner at his old college and at the tail end of this slightly awkward excursion...I can't even...Toby teaches Laurie to quickstep in a courtyard. I don't think it's just because I'm a dancer that this scene put a completely silly smile on my face, but it might be. It's as sensual as any of the BDSM scenes in the book and even requires Laurie surrendering to being led--in a venue he's much less familiar with than being tied up. But mostly I thought it was a brief moment of utter loveliness--romance perfection even--that has stuck with me for months and that I now think about every time I quickstep. It's about love and trust and becoming a "we" instead of a "you" and a "me" in a way that has the potential for a healthy amount of humiliation. And that's something I love about all of Hall's books: how he fills recesses of hurt and vulnerability with things that are better. Maybe not all the way, and maybe not perfectly, but better.

For Real isn't Hall's cleverest, most daring book, with the lushest language, the starkest metaphor or the largest concept. It's just real and glorious in equal measures. I think it's his best one yet.

But hey, I'm biased.

Oh, and the recipe for the pie is in the book. So you should, ya know, get it. In fact, until June 7th, there's a giveaway going on over on my post at Read a Romance Month where you could win a copy of For Real, Rose Lerner's Sweet Disorder or any number of other fabulous foodie romance prizes.

Disclosure: In case you somehow missed it, I beta read a section of For Real, wrote the lemon meringue pie recipe in the book, have a review column once a month at All About Romance with Hall and pester him via email frequently. I also received an ARC of For Real from the publisher. So you should obviously ignore everything I have to say about this book because BIASED in all the ways.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Possession, 1979 Harlequin Romance #2U5S

Possession, a 1979 Harlequin Presents by Charlotte Lamb, is similar in some ways and different in others from last's week's 1979 Harlequin Romance, Sea Lightning. We still have an overbearing hero with a little too much confidence in his personal allure. He is in a position of authority over the heroine (actually her boss...again). He's ridiculously sexist and assumes the heroine is available to him sexually because of her behavior with other men and her attractiveness. If you read last week's post, this probably all sounds familiar.

But we've changed lines now from Harlequin Romance to Harlequin Presents. And Possession, trope-wise, winds up in the arranged marriage/marriage of convenience lane rather than the enemies-to-lovers of Sea Lightning. This seems to be an important distinction in early Harlequins. It raises the possibility of married-people sex, which given the time frame and publisher conservatism at Harlequin in this era, seems infinitely more acceptable than pre-marital sex.

And married people sex is what we get in Possession. While hero Dan Harland and heroine Laura Belsize are not yet quite in love, they do get married and have explicit sexual relations. Now, when I say "explicit" I don't mean the pumping and gasping of today's erotic romance. But it's also a far cry from punishing kisses, a breast grope and a fade-to-black. We'll get to all that in a minute though as it happens about two-thirds of the way through the book.

First, one place where I'm starting to notice a divergence in the way physical intimacy is portrayed in these older categories is in the characters' experiences with people not their potential partners. These days, it seems like neither hero nor heroine is permitted any kind of sexual contact with a different character, while in the older books, I'm not sure I've read one yet that didn't have some element of a love triangle involving at least kissing. In Possession, we get several such relationships. On page 9:

When they returned that night it was almost three in the morning. Max opened the flat door for her and then kissed her hard for a long time, his mouth warm and expert on her own.

'Renata will wake up ... no, goodnight ...'

Reluctantly he kissed her again and walked away, and she closed the door, leaning against it, laughing softly under her breath, because it really had been the most wonderful evening.

So not only does Max, a relatively minor suitor, get to kiss the heroine, the implication is that she likes it. It's "warm and expert". And so in addition to the ratcheting up of sexual content from the Harlequin Romance from last week, in this Presents from the same year, we also get a total absence of guilt. Finally, when the heroine says stop, this guy Max actually stops. He's "reluctant" but he abides by her wishes. We might assume from this that the Presents heroine has a bit more agency with regard to sexual matters?

Well, not quite. As the story progresses, it comes out that hero Dan has virtually taken over Laura's family business. Laura's ne'er-do-well father Jimmy has been in an accident and her grandfather is old and becoming frail. Despite Laura's modern, career-girl notions, her grandfather appears to think that she is too young to take over the business and appoints Dan as trustee. If he could appoint Dan as her husband, he'd do that too and eventually the desire to please her grandfather drives her to agree to wed him. Her father is also pushing her into marriage because it allows her to keep an eye on "the enemy" since he is certain his father wants to cut him out of the business entirely. The daughter is basically sold into marriage to secure the family's business, if not entirely against her will, then certainly against her inclination.

And that brings us to another interesting element of Possession: Laura's disinclination to marry. We are told that she has "a positive phobia about possessive relationships" and "liked to be fancy free, not tied down" (page 51). There are several other instances of Laura thinking or saying similar things and it emerges as the main stumbling block to a relationship in the novel.

We still don't have the hero's perspective here, but a reader familiar with the trajectory of these category romances will pick up on the fact that the hero is emotionally committed long before the heroine. This exchange from page 87 hints at what I mean:

'Arrogant, ambitious men usually get their comeuppance,' she said, turning away.

He followed her over the stony ground. 'And usually at the hands of an even more ruthless woman,' he suggested.

Doesn't that just read like poetry? In the confined space of the best category romances, every word has to mean something and this passage has her turning away and him following her over rough terrain while admitting the power she has over him. The book it put me most in mind of is actually Gone With the Wind: where the hero, reluctant to show his soft underbelly to a fearsomely confident, flirtatious heroine, resorts to sardonic wit and their magnetic attraction to eventually win her. Of course, he's more successful at it than Rhett Butler was.

When Laura's grandfather takes a turn for the worse and her father falls in love a woman who has been nursing him after his accident, Laura finally agrees to marry Dan and they go on their honeymoon. It's here where they eventually fall into bed on page 139.

'I'm not going back to England until you're my wife in every sense of the word,' he said thickly.

Her eyes widened. 'Marcus needs you ... the firm ...'

'Damn the firm,' he snapped, his features harsh. The grey eyes flickered over her hungrily. 'I've played a waiting game for months, but I'm not waiting another day, Laura. I want you, and you're going to let me make love to you before you leave this room again.'

The fierce determination in his voice left her helpless. She weakly closed her eyes. He lay watching her without moving for a few moments, then his hands moved down, slowly touching her, running down over her body smoothly, stroking and caressing. She abandoned thought of everything but the sweetness of the sensations his hands were arousing in her. [...] He drew away and bent to kiss her breast and she buried her face in his throat, kissing it hotly, moaning incoherently, a piercing tension in her body, aching along her taut bones, a frenzy singing in her blood.

The passage goes on for another five pages, alternating between description and Laura's revelations about what this might mean for her and Dan. And while she does say no at three points, the scene plays more like dubious consent than non-consent. Though the point where Dan calls Laura a  frigid bitch is a particularly low one. That said, her nos seem more emotional than physical in context.

That would not have mattered so much since she admitted grimly that she wanted him, too, that he was not going to take a thing she did not want to give him, but in that very fact lay the seed of her fear and panic. [...] She was afraid of her own desperate need for love.

Laura begins to worry that she could care for Dan and, musing on her lonely childhood, recalls the lesson that it's dangerous to care for anyone--that caring results in "rejection, humiliation, pain" (page 143). Now, in a real life encounter, Dan would have clearly stepped over the line. Frankly, anyone who called me a frigid bitch would not be getting into my pants. But within the context of their relationship, the scene, and the childhood backstory IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR SEXUAL ENCOUNTER, I'm not so sure. The resulting climaxes and denouement are actually tender (page 144).

She fell into a silence, a warm, lazy, languid ease which was like the peace of a summer's day. Dan's head dropped on her body, his breathing slowing, his heart settling to a quieter pace. His hands stroked her body gently. She lay, eyes closed, her arms around his neck, feeling the tension, the panic, drain out of her toes.

Of course, their bliss is short-lived. Dan thanks her for their encounter and she reacts poorly, setting the stage for a third act where both feel betrayed before coming back together again.

Possession was an interesting read for me, mainly because it's the first category sex I've read for this survey (and, not so incidentally, signals a need to back up and read some earlier works), but also because it's the heroine holding up the loving-and-caring show, not the hero. If it's possible to show a hero in hot pursuit without being inside his head, that's what we've got here. It also exposed some of my assumptions about what sexual content in a book this early would look like: that it would involve more love and less direct language. Wrong. Though the couple being already married didn't surprise me at all.

Next week, I tackle Sara Craven's Harlequin Presents Flame of Diablo, which Jenny Haddon suggested might be the first Mills & Boon sex scene. Like Possession, it was published by M&B
 in 1979, but it's actually later by Harlequin reckoning: 1980. So it will be interesting to see whether 1979 was just a turning point or whether I really do need to go back further to see the advent of sex scenes that aren't almost impenetrably vague.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Guest Post: Food & Romance at Read a Romance Month

I'm guest posting over at Read a Romance Month's blog today, sharing some thoughts on food and romance, plus trying out a recipe from Brenda Novak's new cookbook to raise funds for the American Diabetes Association. I made the crepes from the book and they turned out great. I also got a sneak peek at the rest of the cookbook and all the recipes look really good. Plus, it's for a good cause and there's a giveaway of a couple of my favorite foodie romances, including Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner and Alexis Hall's latest, For Real. 

And just to entice you to go read the post, I'm including a bonus recipe here. Brenda suggested filling the crepes with fruit or goat cheese and blackberry jam. But I happened to have some whipping cream left over from another recipe so I decided to see if I could make goat cheese whipped cream. Doesn't that sound good? Turns is good. Really good. Good enough that I pretty much think that breakfast should always include honeyed goat cheese whipped cream. And fresh farmer's market strawberries.

Pretty please?

Honeyed Goat Cheese Whipped Cream
Makes: 6 servings
Difficulty: Intermediate

4 ounces soft goat cheese, room temperature (very important--goat cheese cannot be too cold or the whipped cream will separate)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons honey

1. In a medium bowl, combine goat cheese, powdered sugar, honey and 1/4 cup of the whipping cream. Using a hand mixer, mix on low speed until smooth. Add the remaining whipping cream and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

2. Serve with crepes or french toast for breakfast or with crepes and fresh berries for a light spring dessert.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Into the Shadows Bourbon Chocolate Milkshakes

So this is a secret baby book. I hate secret baby books. HATE. I hate them so much that my review policies caution people against sending them to me.

Except...I loved this secret baby book.

Into the Shadows, the third book in Carolyn Crane's Undercover Associates series, features undercover Associate Thorne, who isn't really an official part of the group. He's a self-contained unit, tasked with taking down a large criminal syndicate and the highly placed government officials shielding it, from the inside. Vengeance for his sister's murder years before is what drives him and he's spent years getting to a place where he can kill the last guy involved in her death. Heroine Nadia is the daughter of Thorne's former boss, who died two years before. While Thorne was working for Nadia's dad the two of them were an item and unbeknownst to Thorne, Nadia got pregnant shortly before they broke up. Fast forward to the present and their son, Benny, is almost two years old.

The major reason I loved this book is Thorne. Thus far, the Associates books have worked well for me largely because of the heroines. And Nadia is terrific. She's fierce, protective and smart. She has her own goals that have nothing to do with the hero. In fact, she never expected to see him again. She was heartbroken when he left, but she has gone on with her life and I loved her for it. But it's tortured, messed up Thorne who made this book for me. He thinks he's a bad guy, a thug and unworthy of love. He doesn't trust anyone. He can't take a compliment. Both he and Nadia think he'd be a terrible father. The only reason he and Nadia ever got together in the first place is that she told him to fuck off. And while Nadia has some of her own demons to slay, it's Thorne's emotional journey toward being able to accept the love and intimacy Nadia offers that made this story so gripping for me.

Previous stories in this series have been quite epic. In general, the protagonists have been saving the world, or at least a bunch of innocents, from certain destruction. Into the Shadows is a much more personal, intimate, family-oriented plot. Thorne's issues stem largely from his dysfunctional childhood. Nadia's wasn't much better. And the two of them have to band together to save both Nadia's mother and their son. The result is a poignant, closely-written, emotional book. Honestly, I had no idea romantic suspense could be this good.

So if you aren't reading the Associates series, you should start, even if you're not that into romantic suspense. Maybe not with this one since you'll have more background on the secondary characters if you read them in order (and the fourth book just came out this week), but yeah. Start today.

The connection between bourbon chocolate milkshakes and Into the Shadows will probably not be apparent to anyone but me. But there are several key scenes involving whiskey and one right at the very end of the book involving some ice cream.

So I'll just say this: what are milkshakes but ice cream that has been melted strategically?

This recipe couldn't be easier. Just put everything in a blender and blend until smooth. The only bit of advice I have is that actually, the quality of the ice cream seems to be more important than the quality of the bourbon. Though I used pretty good bourbon here because I just don't really buy bad bourbon. This isn't the time to go generic on the ice cream though. You want the creamy richness of premium chocolate ice cream. I've found that if I use the cheap stuff it just takes more of it to get the consistency right because it has more air whipped in. So yeah. Häagen-Dazs or your favorite local artisan brand is the way to go.

Oh, and try not to fall over when you drink this much alcohol and sugar through a straw.

Bourbon Chocolate Milkshakes
Makes: 2 16-oz shakes
Difficulty: Easy

4 ounces bourbon
4 ounces chocolate syrup
3 1/2 cups good quality chocolate ice cream

1. Put all the ingredients in a blender. Blend on low speed for 15-30 seconds. Pour into glasses.

Disclosure: I am friendly with Carolyn Crane on Twitter and often receive ARCs from her, but I purchased Into the Shadows myself.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sea Lightning, 1979 Harlequin Romance #2U5S

So if you read yesterday's post on my Utterly Unscientific Summer Saturday Series Sex Survey, you know that today I'm going to be writing about Sea Lightning by Linda Harrel, a Harlequin Romance published in 1980, but originally put out by Mills & Boon in 1979. One note: when I say Harlequin Romance, I'm referring to the specific line at Harlequin, not a general term for romances or even a general term for Harlequins. Throughout this survey, if it's capitalized, it's the name of the line.

First, a little bit about Harlequin. I'm no kind of expert, but here's what I've been able to garner from Wikipedia and various romance bloggers. While Harlequin as a company started in 1949, their partnership with Mills & Boon, a British publisher of romance novels, didn't start until 1957. My understanding is that Mary Bonnycastle, the chief editor at Harlequin, had a real resistance to printing the more sexually explicit material found in some Mills & Boon titles and would reject reprinting books that didn't meet her decency standards. Here's what I don't know: how long did that control last? And what lines did it cover? I've got a hold on Pamela Regis' book A Natural History of the Romance Novel at the library, but it hasn't come in yet. I have to get the Joseph McAleer Mills & Boon history from interlibrary loan so that will likely take longer.

My personal experience with the Harlequin Romance line has been mostly kissing with the occasional breast grope all the way up through the late 1970s. The Harlequin Presents line, which started in 1973, I understand is slightly sexier, with Anne Mather, Charlotte Lamb and Violet Winspear particularly having the reputation for books that run toward more sexual tension. But the actual sex acts depicted in the ones I've read have been limited to vague allusions to sex after marriage--basically the romance novel equivalent of television's "one foot on the floor" Hays Code. We get wives in nighties and perhaps some vague post-coital cuddling, but no actual sex, certainly not in the way we've come to expect as modern Presents readers. I've only read about a dozen of each of these lines though from the time period I'm covering now (my reading in the past has run to older titles) and never made a careful or chronological study of them so that's what I'm interested in exploring this summer.

Sea Lightning by Linda Harrel is a good place to start because it's pretty typical of the earlier Harlequin Romances I've read. Heroine Jensa Welles is a professional illustrator sent to Argentina by her former teacher and mentor to work with marine biologist Adam Ryder on a scientific book of whale behavior and migration patterns. Right off the bat, we get straight to the reason I so love these older category romances. On page 28 & 29:

'I shouldn't think you'd be bothered by much human company no matter where you lived--you're not exactly welcoming yourself, you know,' she muttered, holding on to her seat for dear life.

'I could be...if I take into account the purely decorative advantages of your presence.'

The suggestiveness in his voice stiffened Jensa's back and sent a slight prickle running down her spine. She turned her head to one side and stared out at the broadening desert. He was still trying to unnerve her. And she had to admit that he was very close to succeeding.


Jensa caught her breath and felt her eyes widen. 'You're an overgrown child, Adam!' she snapped. 'You think all this bluffing is going to panic me, providing you with some petty, small-minded amusement.'

Not only has Adam called into question her professional competence by this point (purely on the basis of her sex--and says so outright), he has ordered her to return home, threatened her with the primitive conditions at the research station, made suggestive comments about her appearance and now these more overtly sexual threats. It's textbook sexual harassment, almost a caricature it's so bad. And it continues through much of the book. As a modern reader, it's unpleasant, jarring and offensive. If it occurred in a contemporary romance novel today, it would likely get an automatic trip to DNF-land from me except for one thing: Jensa stands up to him, verbally protesting his language and behavior. He doesn't change it, but she said something, which is pretty brave considering he already doesn't want her there and she basically has no recourse, legal or otherwise.

Now for the sex. There isn't any. I wouldn't even call the novel particularly thick with sexual tension. It's more thick with Adam wanting, Jensa denying and feeling quite guilty and embarrassed when she does find herself experiencing desire. Adam makes several references to the fact that since Jensa is a beautiful woman, she must have quite a lot of sexual experience, for whatever beauty has to do with desire or promiscuity. For example:

With that cynical announcement, he leaned his body over her and pressed her back on the sofa, covering her mouth with his, brutally forcing it open. When at last he finally released her, he said, 'I did that to shut you up--you push me too hard, you know.'

He withdrew his body from hers, leaving her shaken and unable to reply. But when she looked up into those cold, mocking eyes, her response came in full. She brought her hand across his face with a sharpness that drew colour to his cheek and pain to her hand.

His hand flashed out and caught her wrist, pinioning it to the seat. 'An appropriate reaction, Miss Welles, and well done. But I know women who look like you love such attention...even though they all feel obliged to go through with these little charades of mock outrage.'

There isn't a single word in those paragraphs that isn't horrifying to this modern reader. He physically restrains her. He kisses her against her consent and does so to shut her up. Nor is it a gentle kiss. He's condescending about all of it. Finally, he makes the ridiculous assumption that beautiful women desire that kind of sexual attention, but want to make him work for it. If anyone needs a primer on how rape culture works, this is pretty much it. Oddly though, Adam has a fairly veiled sexual relationship with an Evil Other Woman in the novel, but she remains largely unjudged for her behavior. One assumes that beautiful women who conform to his sexual expectations are excepted from his wrath.

Of course, Adam hasn't really had a female role model in his life. His high-flying society mother left his dull, dreary, scientist father when he was very young. This seems to be held up as an explanation for his behavior, but also a the main sticking point in his personal development as human being. It's quite Oedipal really. Jensa suggests at one point that he should consider reconciling with his mother, which he eventually does, off-stage. And after that, his behavior changes. There's an ethos that even now permeates some romance novels: that the savage, uncontrollable male is tamed by the love of his heroine. That's not quite what happens here, not directly. At least, the change to his behavior seems to come from reconciling with his mother, though of course it's at Jensa's suggestion.

Toward the end of the novel, Adam's gives Jensa full credit for her contribution to both his conference presentation and an enormous win in his efforts at whale habitat conservation. Though they part on bad terms shortly before the end of the novel (yes, of course they get together in the end), Adam includes Jensa's business contact information on his conference materials even though he isn't obligated to. He and other men are depicted as having quite a lot of respect for her professional abilities. It was just as satisfying for me as a reader that Jensa earns professional respect in the end as it was that she earns the sexy scientist's love.

There's some more fairly uncomfortable kissing that ranges from violent and expressly unwanted by Jensa to merely forward and only reluctantly abandoned by Adam (a total of four at my count). And yet, the last kiss in the novel tells a different story.

He looked at her expectantly. Slowly, tentatively, he reached out to her again, and this time she did not resist. 'I love you, Adam. I love you so very much,' she whispered as he pressed her to him. He kissed her then in that way that brought her breath in short, exquisite gasps.


He brought her to him once again. There was silence in the room for long moments after that. Finally, as Adam withdrew his lips from a hungry caress of her neck, he whispered, 'You and I must go and do that sightseeing. A hotel room is decidedly not the place where we should be right now! Our time will come--and soon, my darling.'

Yes, she thought, looking up at hi in wonder and in joy. She knew that neither he heart nor her body had betrayed her, after all, in urging her to love this man. With him, she would be safe and cherished, always.

So here's the thing: despite Adam's horrific attitudes early in the novel and the brutal kisses he inflicts on her (which of course she sort of likes even if she's loath to admit it even to herself), Sea Lightning was quite a good novel. Even though Adam's redemption happens very quickly, it's sufficiently complete (and has the additional factor of reconciling with his mother) that I actually sort of believe that they might really be alright together. There's also an amusing discussion of potential future children and how Jensa will continue to work while the kids are educated in a very the-world-will-be-your-classroom manner.

In other words, Sea Lightning answers both sexual and professional questions for women in ways a modern reader, thanks to a broader acceptance of feminist principles, would never even think to ask them. While the perspectives on sex aren't modern ones by a long shot since the "loose woman" doesn't get the guy and the virtuous heroine does, and Jensa feels guilty about any desire she experiences throughout the novel, at least by the end the hero is respecting her sexual boundaries and acknowledging her professional competence.

I'll be reading in chronological order throughout the summer so the next book on the list is Charlotte Lamb's Possession, a Harlequin Presents from 1979. Let's see if changing lines makes any difference to social mores or sexual content.

And don't forget that readers can contribute to both my 2U5S spreadsheet in a public Google doc and the link party on the 2U5S main page. Come, share the old category love.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Utterly Unscientific Summer Saturday Series Sex Survey #2U5S

It's Memorial Day weekend here in the States which means the traditional start to the summer season is upon us at least culturally if not meteorologically. I haven't done so many essay-type posts lately, mostly because I've been trying to concentrate on improving my photos and recipes, but I sort of miss doing those more free-form pieces. And so when a question I asked on Twitter earlier this week seemed to spark some interest, I decided to go ahead and make a summer project of it.

The question went more or less like this: When did sex start becoming a major feature of category (aka series) romance? I'd just read and reviewed Roses Have Thorns by Karen Leabo, a Silhouette Romance from 1989, and there was hardly any sexual contact it in at all--just a few kisses and one over-the-blouse nipple pinching. It just got me wondering how we got from there (if there is really where it started, which we all had our doubts about, as you'll see below) to where we are now, which has some kind of sex from fade-to-black to explicit in most major category lines.

According to a number of folks who have been around the romance business a lot longer than I have, it seems that the sex-on-page turning point happened long before 1989 and that the Silhouette Romance line or even that particular author chose to add none. Editor Jenny Haddon suggested that perhaps Sara Craven's 1979 Mills & Boon title Flame of Diablo had the first on-page sex while Sarah Frantz Lyons recalled that a significant first might have been a Violet Winspear book. I have the Craven on order and it should be here next week. I'll have to look into the Winspear thing though as the one I have of hers is from 1981.

But it got me thinking on a larger scale about the sexual content of category romance novels and how we got from a few chaste kisses in the Harlequin Romances of the early 1970s to the current situation that can allow for anal sex in some racier category lines. And not just penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex--what about oral sex, masturbation and other forms of sexual touching? Since I love old category romances and have a bunch of them already laying around my house unread, I thought, well, wouldn't it be fun to do an utterly unscientific summer Saturday series sex survey (2U5S)?

I'd love to find some more books outside the Harlequin Presents line, but currently I have a selection of 16 books with publication dates from 1979 to 1990. The reason I chose those dates is that it encompasses both Craven's 1979 book and a 1990 Anne Stuart book that lots of people seem to have found memorable for a particular oral sex scene. Though if I hear of a category/series romance with "full docking procedures" (Haddon's term, which cracked me up and that I will use ad nauseum so fair warning) that has an earlier publication date, I'll be happy to revise my criteria. Speaking of full docking procedures, I decided to define "sex" as orgasm achieved via manual, oral or genital stimulation. This may not be a good definition for sex in general, but it seemed a good enough definition for romance novel sex. If this were a real survey, I'd have to go into more detail about that and come up with a more clinical definition. But whatevs. Utterly unscientific.

Thus far I have books published by Harlequin Presents, Harlequin Romance, Dell Candlelight, Loveswept and Silhouette Romance. I think many of the Harlequins I have are actually reprints of Mills & Boon titles so those would also qualify. I just don't often see them here in the US. I have two books each by Charlotte Lamb, Anne Mather and Iris Johansen, but the other authors are all unique.

I have set up a spreadsheet to track my reading and the sexual content therein. In addition to basic identification data, I developed a few categories of sexual content as well as some additional data that seemed tangentially related like whether the characters are explicitly named virgins and the type of language used to describe sexual acts and body parts (vague: he entered her, euphemistic: his sword entered her sheath, and precise: his penis entered her vagina). The spreadsheet is public, meaning anyone can edit, so if you want to read along and have books that would qualify, feel free to add them. I just ask the following: no historicals, no single title romances, no books outside the prescribed time period and if you add a title from a line not named above or have a category romance with sex and an earlier publication date, please email me so I can add it to my own to-buy list. All the books I intend to read are on the spreadsheet though I may revise if I can balance out the publisher & author distribution via new purchases. Our weekend forays into the Virginia hinterlands tend to yield some pretty good category hauls.'s not completely unscientific, I guess. I'm a Virgo after all. I really can't help it.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll post my first 2U5S book, Sea Lightning by Linda Harrel. No food, just romance. And my weird musings about the sexual content of 1980s-ish category romance.

Finally, if you want to read along or pick up some other early-ish category romances (again, not single title, not historical, not books outside the date range of 1979 to 1990), I've included a blog link-up thing below. I'll link here from each of the review posts so if you want to read just one or a bunch over the course of the summer other folks interested in this stuff can find your post too. Feel free to link up GoodReads reviews, blog posts or articles. Just be sure only to link content written by you. Sorry, but I'll delete posts that don't conform to the guidelines above.

An InLinkz Link-up

Happy summer!
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