**** This is not an attack on any of the authors whose books I will mention in this post. This is a criticism of certain tropes I have found issue with that have made appearances in nearly every book I have read by them. Please do not send this to the authors because they deserve to live their lives without reading scathing criticisms. They have editors for this purpose. I review for readers not for authors.****
I am a massive massive fan of romance novels and have gone through my personal Renaissance in understanding the merit and joy value of the genre as a whole, from fluff to erotica. While I might not have personally read the darker books that exist within romance, I’d like to say that I don’t particularly judge the existence of some books that tend to cross lines that exist in the real world. This is fiction after all and we’re all equipped enough with brains and critical thinking to separate speculation and fiction from actual practice in the real world.
No I’m not talking about omegaverse and alien porn, those are oddly enough in the clear. I’m talking about some more contemporary romances that have really toed the line of not okay to the point that I’ve written multiple unpublished blog posts before reinforcing with myself that “fiction is fiction” and “it do be like that sometimes.”
As the title suggests, I’m going to use books by Abby Jimenez, Sally Thorne, Helena Hunting, and Tessa Bailey to expound. I’ve read the entire Friend Zone trilogy by Abby Jimenez, all three books released by Sally Thorne and Helena Hunting, and Fix Her Up and Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey. I’ll just use one book by each author as an example because the issues have cropped up in every book I’ve read by them.
To absolve the authors of some of the accusations I’m about to throw at them, I must say that they’re likely not writing their opinions into these books (however much I feel like they are) and they’re obviously not trying to normalize some questionable actions (because these books are for adults and we are all able to rationalize that just because it’s written in a book doesn’t mean it’s written to be a good thing). Most authors don’t write morally pure characters because then everything they write would be pretty homogenous.
Also this is not an attack on anyone who has read and loved these books. They all have their merits and some of them actually address prominent issues and provided much needed representation like Abby Jimenez’s books and their chronic illness representations. You’re entirely valid in liking them (I do too) and I’m entirely justified in ripping them to shreds in this review 🙂
With all that, let me get into my concerns. Each book has its own special kind of hellish way of portraying my concerns. Instead of writing a dissertation I have simply given you a bulleted outline of shit that pissed me off about each of these books:
- The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
- Josh doesn’t change at all. He’s still an asshole to literally everyone around him. Being nice to his gf only isn’t a fun trait
- He paints his bedroom the colour of Lucy’s eyes without having said one nice thing to her. Creepy much?
- Josh kisses Lucy without her explicit consent before she goes on a date…uhhh no sir consent is required
- Lucy is sweet and shy and not like other girls who are bold and beautiful and confident.
- The juxtaposition is that Josh is protector and Lucy is uwu soft… why
- Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez
- Vanessa thinks she will die of ALS and wants to live a full life. She’s living life on the edge, not dwelling on sadness, constantly moving forward. Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl who needs to be tamed. So different from other girls wow.
- Adrian is actually for once not a hyper macho man for no good reason but he is sad and broody and miserable.
- Vanessa wants to live her life and not spend years under ALS treatments that are simply painful and no fucking fun. Unfortunately Adrian is not impressed and wants Vanessa to Not Give Up even though it’s not his fucking decision to make.
- The book ends with them finding out that Vanessa doesn’t have ALS but a benign growth that was easily removed thereby providing Adrian the opportunity to tell her I Told You So and completely negating the entire point that Adrian needs to respect the path Vanessa has chosen and support her choice.
- Yes she gets a full and happy life and I love that but again at the cost of a man fixing her life and proving that she can’t take care of herself.
- Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey
- Manwhore is told to stay away from his best friend’s wife’s sweet angel baby sister because she’s too pure for his manwhoreness while everyone forgets this woman is in fact a woman and not a child and therefore a consenting adult
- His name is Fox
- Hannah’s entire goal is to fix Fox’s internal block that’s stopping him from believing he can have an adult relationship instead of referring him to a therapist
- Hannah’s not like other girls because she’s not a main character and she likes it like that but she’s a good supportive role. That makes her different because she’s going to be a main character BY being supportive. So different and so quirky. She listens to music on vinyl.
- Everyone in the damn book is hell bent on protecting innocent little Hannah who is in fact not a fucking child. Hannah is referred to as a girl constantly while Fox is a man despite them both being close to 30.
- Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting
- Sparkles and cupcake girl versus beer and axe throwing Man.
- Homegirl dresses in bright colours, puffy skirts, is short and feisty, she’s ambitious, she’s trying to make it unlike everyone else who has already made it. She’s different.
- For some reason the guy is overprotective of his business rival because she’s a walking cupcake.
- Family visit reveals that Man is from a family that thinks being called out for making slightly lewd jokes is an Issue Of The New Generation…oh no what happened to the good ole days :((((
I’m sure you’ve noticed the common thread that’s set me off here: quirky girls, traditional and mildly toxic masculinity, shoddy consent, and infantilization.
Not having women in books who are main character material is not uncommon. They need to stand out, they’re the leads after all. But I rarely have to wade through bullshit about how their quirks make them a sore thumb and if they are the sore thumb, the book rarely celebrates that, in fact the leads usually find comfort in others who also share similar cases but the bond they find is what makes them feel special. It’s this dichotomy of being part of a pack while having someone treat you well. That’s the sweet sweet balance of some of my favourite romances (Talia Hibbert books for example).
I am already wary of men in real life. Fictional men are whom I rely on to not constantly feel uneasy. Books that seem to hammer in that the male lead is a Man feel like a waste of shelf space because why the fuck are you wasting my time with someone I can just deal with on a regular work day. Maybe it’s fine to have someone who is traditionally masculine, is protective, etc, but when the slightly toxic side of those traits isn’t addressed one bit EVER the male lead is not compelling and attractive anymore. I’m sure there’s a host of people who are totally fine with this, review site ratings certainly confirm that this is something that’s coveted but ohmygoooood I don’t get it at all. Men need to be just as well rounded as the women in books and it’s a real oversight to just let them be inadequate when the women work overtime to fix themselves and the men they ~love~
Do I have to explain this? I’m not asking for a, “Can I?” “Yes” in every scenario but if there’s a scene where someone is explicitly showing discomfort with an interaction, any sort of “giving in” seems like coercion and the WRONG type of consent. Like anybody else, I do enjoy a fun smut scene but if it’s starting with one of the partners showing even the slightest bit of reluctance the whole book goes sour. Basic tenet of any interaction is an enthusiastic sign of consent.
HOOOOOO this one sets me off. We’re all submerged in media that has sexualized youthfulness in the worst way. Lack of body hair, innocence, virginity, shortness, naïveté, cute and uwu adjacent behaviour, defenselessness, etc are all things various types of consumer media love to push that really toe the line of being pedophilic and it makes my skin crawl. So instances in books where these topics are not handled with nuance, where the women are constantly referred to as girls and things to protect, while they are consistently juxtaposed against MEN who are big and strong and clearly adult, I simply cannot stomach it. There’s no other way for me to see it with than this undercurrent of sexualizing childlike mannerisms and traits.
After letting all that out I really need to bring myself back to the point that this is all fiction. I don’t think these authors are remotely okay with any of the concerns I have raised with certain aspects of how romances are written. As works of fiction, creative liberties are expected, speculative situations allow for exploration of themes that perhaps wouldn’t be okay in real life. And people are certainly allowed to enjoy things others might find ick especially when they’re aware that it’s fiction and perhaps not the most real world appropriate.
I’ve read these books all the way through and some of them are 3 and 4 star books in my opinion. If I truly hated them I would have quit part way. If I felt the authors were doing something horrible I wouldn’t be reading their other books. There’s also a part of me that loves to hate read and the well done, if sometimes nauseatingly described, smut is enough to keep me reading. So I get the appeal honestly. But I’ve seen the popularity that these books rise to, the zeal and love that they inspire, and I have to take a moment to break down really concerning aspects that it seems like are simply passing by without scrutiny.
In conclusion, I kinda get why these books are heavy hitters in the romance genre, and some of them absolutely slap and I couldn’t put them down, but also what the fuck.
Other books that have similar issues:
- The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
- Julia Quinn books (link for my Bridgerton series review here)
- Accidentally In Love by Belinda Missen (my review here)
- No Judgements by Meg Cabot
If I come up with an efficient way to keep this list updated and separate from this post, I’ll edit and link it eventually.
For now, thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts!