Is there any hope for me?
February 8, 2013 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I thought Outlander and Kushiel's Dart were stupid. Is there any romance novel I might enjoy?

So, I know the above two books are often listed as exceptionally good example of romance novels/erotica. I tried them both, because I like sexy trashy junk as much as the next lady, but I found them both to be varying shades of preposterous. They were pretty well-written in terms of sentence structure, pacing, world-building, etc, but the sheer amount of absurd plot contrivance, idiotic decision-making, just-in-the-knick-of-time rescues, and bizarre emotional responses, plus the magic perfect sparklekitten nature of the female protagonists, just made them not worth it for me.

Is there anyone out there who felt the same way about these books, but could recommend any other romance-y books without these issues? I really haven't delved into romance novels at all beyond these two, but I can tell you that I liked True Blood (the show) and Pride and Prejudice (which I somehow never read until this year). Any level of sex is fine. I just want a sensible plot with my romance/smut.
posted by showbiz_liz to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If you liked Pride and Prejudice you may love Bridget Jones's Diary as much as I do.

Bridget isn't perfect, or thin, she's not rich, her house isn't gorgeous. She's just a young woman trying to make it in the world.

Check that one out.

As for chick lit in general, I like anything with the picture of a leg and a handbag on the cover.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:05 PM on February 8, 2013

I haven't read these books, but from your description I'm prompted to recommend Wanderlust by Danielle Steele. I have to say it's my favorite romance novel. It's set in the early 20th century and is about a woman who was raised by a wealthy uncle and has a desire to see the world. The plot is quite realistic and the protagonist isn't the "perfect pollyanna" type.
posted by Cybria at 2:06 PM on February 8, 2013

It's not remotely sexy or erotic but A Town Like Alice is a great romance with a realistic female lead.
posted by jabes at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Read the Brigerton Series by Julia Quinn. They've Austen-ish in period, super-well-written and very funny. Total romance delight!
posted by mostlymartha at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check out Smart Bitches Love Trashy Books.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:20 PM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Might you enjoy Angela Carter's Nights At The Circus? It is a romance of sorts. It's improbable but in a different way from a fantasy genre novel like Kushiel's Dart. The heroine is very unusual, to say the slightest, but she certainly isn't all sparklekitten. It's more literary than your average romance, but it's also fun.

Also, I very much enjoyed Robertson Davies's Salterton Trilogy, which are mostly romances and a teensy bit old-fashioned in their gender views, alas, and his later novel The Lyre of Orpheus.

These are not smutty - I mean, Nights At The Circus gets a bit risque or perhaps bawdy in places.
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on February 8, 2013

Oh, I do agree, i think I did not even finish Outlander though I tried... True blood is of course based on the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, which do not follow the same storyline and to me are as good if not better. She also has some other series you might enjoy, in fact I'm right now reading an Aurora Teagarden book. Her Harper Connelly series I also like.
Also, if you like P&P there might be a big treat for you in store. I have spend many hours reading FanFiction. There is a lot on P&P. I recommend Derbyshire Writers Guild, they have hundreds of stories, some not so good, but also very good stuff, I greatly enjoyed sifting through that. There are also more mature FF sites on the internet, you could try the Meryton Assembly or 50 Miles of Good Road. Other stuff I enjoyed are Georgette Heyer, Jilly Cooper (please do not start with her recent work). I also found good books through several previous Askme's.
posted by oenzemain at 2:27 PM on February 8, 2013

Response by poster: Check out Smart Bitches Love Trashy Books.

I'm sort of wary of them because the people in the comments seem to universally rave about Outlander and the Kushiel books...
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2013

You might like the Aisling Grey series by Katie MacAlister. It's a paranormal romancy mystery-ish series. Her Silver Dragons and Light Dragons series are set in the same world, but the main characters in those go a lot closer to perfect-magic-sparklekitten.
posted by specialagentwebb at 2:35 PM on February 8, 2013

I'm curious if you read both of those novels because they were featured in the Vaginal Fantasy book club on Goodreads in the last few months; if not, you might want to try the forums there as the participants will have recently read both books and will probably have some recommendations.
posted by bcwinters at 2:37 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe try "The Blue Castle" by L.M. Montgomery. It starts out lightly, full of fussy townfolk and an overbearing family and a drab heroine, and somehow transforms itself into the most outright romantic book I've ever read by the end. Seriously, the second half of the book makes me SWOON.
posted by warble at 2:39 PM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin
posted by syncope at 2:55 PM on February 8, 2013

I hated Outlander but liked Kushiel's Dart.

You might like "The Thorn Birds."

As far as erotica goes, the Herotica series is pretty good. Also Black Lace Omnibus.
posted by bunderful at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2013

If you liked Pride and Prejudice, you might enjoy North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's pretty serious literature and more akin to Dickens than to Austen, but the romance does smoulder.
posted by stowaway at 3:25 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I realize your title is most likely a self-deprecating joke, but you are not under any obligation to like "the pinnacle of fantasy romance" as envisioned by the loud majority of genre readers today.

If you can't tolerate "contrivance," your choices will be narrower. Genre novel plots are often about justifying or explaining unlikely sequences of events to make them more believable. Frowner's suggestion of Angela Carter is pretty brilliant, because Carter does basically nothing to make you believe that her plots are governed by any kind of reason or guiding principle.

I would suggest Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, a classic of women's lib. People often have a powerful response to it. Also, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying is infamous for its most quotable phrase, but it's also a good book. And have you thought about D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover? Good luck with your reading!
posted by Nomyte at 3:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all, it's totally not a terrible thing to decide this genre isn't your thing -- hardly a loss of hope kind of situation.

Second of all, it would be super-helpful to know what you do like. In other words, what made you think that you might be able to find romances that you'd like? That sounds like a jerk question, which isn't how I mean it. I mean it like ... recommendations are much, much easier if people have something to go on, because people who like historical romances and people who like contemporaries are often different, and Bridget Jones itself is hard for me to go on in this situation, since I find it just as contrived as many other ones, and yet I also enjoyed it. Do you know what I mean? Contrivance turned you off, but you like Bridget Jones -- we can work with that, but need more data. More data! More inputs!

I hope that makes sense.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 3:58 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm shocked to discover that I really enjoy Nora Roberts! I started working my way through her stuff about a month ago, starting with her most recent works, and I'm loving it. From what I've read so far (and I've been sticking with her trilogies - not smutty, just fun romancey - running the gamut from regular every day life (The Bride Quartet, Born In trilogy), very light paranormal (there's a ghost in the Inn Boonsboro trilogy), to heavy witches/vampire/magic/paranormal (The Sign of Seven trilogy, The Circle trilogy). I've read only the ones I listed above, but I've enjoyed them all to varying degrees (Sign of Seven and the Bride Quartet were my favorites, I think).

I'm also a fan of Tami Hoag's work - not her early stuff, which is straight up romance novels with little plot, but her middle to current work is mostly detective/mystery/crime type novels with some nice romance and a little smut. My favorite of hers might be Night Sins and Guilty as Sin.

Good luck finding stuff you like!
posted by firei at 4:04 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Linda_Holmes- haven't actually read Bridget Jones...

Some favorite books are:
Watership Down
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Good Earth
Play it as it Lays
Stories by Dorothy Parker and Roald Dahl
Surreal stuff like Calvino/Murakami/Borges

For sci fi and fantasy:
Anything by Ursula LeGuin
Anything by China Mieville
Song of Ice and Fire books
Golden Compass trilogy
Chronicles of Amber
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:13 PM on February 8, 2013

I thought Outlander was annoying. I like the Pink Carnation series. They're funny, and the heroines are enjoyable to spend time with.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:19 PM on February 8, 2013

You might find the initial chapters harrowing (I certainly did), but I think you could enjoy The Sharing Knife series of Lois McMaster Bujold.

They're fantasy, but love interest is central to about everything that happens, and the love between the two main characters is vivid, intense, and feels extremely real. The sex is credible and comfortable, though not overpowering.

I got them for my birthday last year and read the entire series the next day. By the time I finally looked up from the last page of the last book, it took me awhile to remember who I really am.
posted by jamjam at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2013

Check out Jennifer Crusie's books. Her heroines are often atypical for the genre (older, not skinny, happily single, etc.) and she's funny. Anyone but You is probably my favorite. One caveat: I haven't read any of the novels she's co-authored or her most recent solo book, but I'm a fan of her older ones.

You might also like Tamora Pierce's books, which are YA Fantasy novels that usually have a side of romance. Her recent Beka Cooper Trilogy (scroll down) introduced me to her work and I've become a huge fan. Not super sexy or erotic, but great reads.

Also, count me in as having been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy Nora Roberts. I'd agree that you might want to stick to the trilogies as she's had an amazingly prolific career and sometimes her early, more traditional romances are reissued with covers that make them sound new.

Also also, if you liked P&P have you read Emma or Persuasion? Persuasion in particular seems to be one of the frequently overlooked Jane Austen novels,

For what it's worth, I've been reading romance novels of one variety or another since dinosaurs roamed the earth and I threw Outlander against the wall less than halfway through because I found it so annoying. There are others out there like us, I promise.
posted by camyram at 5:01 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Neither of those are romance novels, really. Romance is a pretty strictly defined genre, not least because of market demands: it's a story that centers on two people meeting, falling in love, overcoming some serious freaking obstacles, and managing to grow and come together in a happy-ever-after. Neither Kushiel nor Gabaldon's books have the ROMANCE label on their spines, and neither would call themselves romance writers (Gabaldon has been outspoken about this, in fact). But lots of romance readers love their work (romance readers read WIDELY), which is why you're seeing them praised on SBTB.

Are you looking for historicals? I am tempted to recommend my own but that seems...presumptuous. Instead I'll recommend my own favorites. Caveat: I go for the extremely well-written stuff over the more entertaining (and often more popular) stuff; many of my favorite authors are midlist, not bestsellers.

Oldies but goodies: Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas. She's out of print now, but grab Bliss, or Dance, or Untie My Heart (or even Black Silk, her debut) on Amazon for pennies. She's a wondrous wordsmith and an incredibly sharp psychologist of the human nature (and human foibles, sexy though they may be).

Also, Laura Kinsale - Flowers from the Storm, about a Quaker who falls in love with an obnoxious aristocrat/genius mathematician who has been crippled by a stroke, is a perennial favorite.

More recent stuff: Cecilia Grant is a newcomer, but A Gentleman Undone is a fabulously written yarn about an unapologetic courtesan and the upright but somewhat depressed former soldier (Napoleonic wars) who reluctantly falls in love with her. I just finished and was mightily impressed.

I've got tons more recs -- I'm very picky, but I read voraciously, and this is the genre I know best, because it's my profession. If you like these and are curious about where to go from there, feel free to Mefi-mail me.
posted by artemisia at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

showbiz_liz, I know what you mean about SBTB. I hated Outlander, too. I cannot believe people keep recommending it! But there are lots of other books people talk about on the site so I'd give it another try. After a while, you get a sense of what things you will like from the description and what someone compares it to. Plus, SBTB is a fun, funny community! Red Headed Girl's reviews of terrible books are some of the funniest things ever.
If you want to give the Austen fanfic a try, I really like Elizabeth Aston. Mr. Darcy's Daughters is the first one and I have now read all her P&P universe books.
I am a big fan of the historical romance novels and I also recomend Julia Quinn, as well as Grace Burrowes (start with The Heir) and Eloisa James ( I loved Potent Pleasures and the rest of that trilogy.) And artemisia is right about Judith Ivory/Cuevas. Her stuff is excellent. I like Susan Donovan for contemporary settings. There's a genre of romance novel for everyone, just keep trying! There's even one for people who are into...whatever this is....
posted by bijou243 at 5:58 PM on February 8, 2013

To scratch the scifi & romance itch simultaneously, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller's Scout's Progress, followed by Mouse & Dragon. As one reviewer put it, the series is the "bastard child of Regency romance and space opera." Their Liaden Universe is fun, but those two books can bring me to tears.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:09 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might like J.D. Robb's In Death books (written by Nora Roberts under a pseudonym) about "Eve Dallas, a tough cop with a dark past, and her even more mysterious love interest, Roarke." There are dozens of them, which is good because they are so, so addictive.
posted by heisenberg at 6:46 PM on February 8, 2013

Many are out of print and only available used, but Joan Aiken wrote great, funny, romantic novels, often with a mystery/dark twist.

You might also like The Folk of The Air by Peter Beagle, (of The Last Unicorn) which is nominally a fantasy book but actually quite romantic.
posted by emjaybee at 9:02 PM on February 8, 2013

Seconding Julia Quinn. Well written, funny, really likable heroines. Usually brilliant or wickedly witty but plain/normal, often not love at first ludicrous encounter. In fact i do recall those being a slow build to the sexytimes. Similarly, Judith Ivory. "Untie my Heart" featured a poor, saucy, bright, pear-shaped widow heroine, a scowly crank noble, and a really great scene involving chairs and restraints.

I couldn't even finish Kushiel. Lord, it just kept GOING. I do think that's where I first encountered the St. Andrew's Cross, though.

Also there used to be. Site called that has a lot of interesting reading.
posted by OompaLoompa at 11:15 PM on February 8, 2013

Heh I just tried Outlander, was enjoying the first third and then it just started getting too ridiculous for exactly the reasons you state.. so I know where you're coming from! I'll be trying some stuff from this question I'm sure.

Dorothy Sayer's Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey series might work for you-- not strictly speaking romances and no smut, but Pride-and-Prejudicey emotional toing and froing and very satisfying from the 'will you just make out already!!' point of view. Strong Poison is a light shortish book, and the series gets richer into Gaudy Night, a dense, literary doorstop.

Pulpier but very good fun, Regency Romance/Space Opera mashup A Civil Campaign. It was the first Bujold book I listened to (I consume these in audio form, if you're an audio person the readings are fantastic), so I can tell you you don't really need to be familiar with the series to get into it. No smut. :(

Seconding North and South, which is basically Pride and Prejudice but with added Industrial Revolution. There's a TV version with an extremely hot lead. There's a lot of people dying in it though, in a high Victorian way, so it can be a bit of a downer.

It's been ages since I've read straight-up romance novels, but I recall Mary Jo Putney as being a guilty pleasure with non-exasperating gender politics.
posted by Erasmouse at 7:50 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will read basically anything romance-related, and I have a hard time not judging people who love Outlander. I just don't get it.

All romance is preposterous. Maybe you just haven't hit on what will make you overlook the preposterous-ness? Maybe you'll be more forgiving if it is historical or if the characters are a bit more real, etc? You also might prefer non-romance that is romantic and/or sexy. And the heroine is pretty much always a special little kitten.

Linda Howard has a few books that have stupid serial killer plots but are filled with sexual tension and fun. Dream Man and Mr. Perfect come to mind.

I will frequently overlook the stupidity if I'm immersed in an interesting world. Elizabeth Lowell has a lot of books that deal with antiquities, etc in a way that always felt somewhat authentic. So I love Tell Me No Lies, which has this backdrop of asian bronzes, even though it is so 80's.

Tatiana and Alexander is sweepingly epic and romantic novel, but also depressing (like siege of Leningrad depressing.) There is also sequel.

Lisa Kleypas writes both historical and contemporary. Blue-eyed Devil is a contemporary that breaks a lot of the typical rules for a romance.

In "women's fiction" you might try Barbara Samuel. Laura Leone wrote a bizarrely good novel where the "hero" is a male prostitute. I think it is called Fallen From Grace.
posted by Mozzie at 10:24 AM on February 9, 2013

I hated Outlander and I love love love anything by Georgette Heyer. I saw that someone recommended her above, and I would like to heartily second that recommendation. No sex, and the plots do get tied up neatly in a bow, but so funny and the heroines usually aren't idiotic. I would start with The Grand Sophy -- I cannot imagine a heroine less like a magic perfect sparklekitten.
posted by peacheater at 3:23 PM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Laminate vs. Bamboo vs. Hardwood flooring   |   How can I find people to share a boat charter? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.