A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Caught in the Act

Hub and I were having lunch today and I noticed four college-aged kids nearby, an Asian guy sitting with a white girl and white guy sitting with an Asian girl. And I immediately started wondering about why they were all together. Were the two Asian people siblings? They didn’t look ethnically similar…

And then I realized I’d caught myself being totally racist. And in a way that’s particularly egregious, because there’s so much of that kind of racism/heterocentrism/ableism etc. in the book world. “Why are there black people in this historical?” “Why is this couple lesbians when it’s not important to the story?” “Why does there need to be someone in a wheelchair — it’s just pandering.”

Why does there need to be any kind of story about four friends or coworkers or whatever eating in a restaurant, just because two of them aren’t white? Because I’m a white person and  I’ve absorbed a lot of shit and I may never get rid of it all. 😦

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I know they mean well, but…

Every time an author posts a comment on something I wrote, it’s instant death for the comment thread.

 

hulksmash

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So Sick of This in Romance

“Marriage comes before babies in my family,’ he enlightened. [Why yes, this is Michelle Reid — why do you ask?]

Marriage–? “Oh for goodness’ sake.” It made her feel sick to her stomach to say it, but — “I’ll take one of those m-morning after pills that–”

“No, you will not,” he cut in.

She stood up. “That is not your decision.”

His silver eyes speared her. “So you are happy to see off a fragile life before it has been given the chance to exist?”

“God, not,” She even shuddered. “But I think it would be–”

“Well, don’t think,” he said coldly.

Yes, God forbid you should think, or get information, so you can make an informed decision about one of the most life-changing situations you could be in.

 

ETA: OMG, now there’s this:

She felt the muscles of her womb clench tightly as if it was acknowledging that it already belonged to him.

No. NO. Turns out I do have a line and THAT CROSSES IT.

 

 

 

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When Are They Going to Start Casting Movies With White People?!

(Sarcastic title courtesy of my husband.)

naked-gun-facepalm

I recently wrote a post about romance in Cassandra Clare’s books for “Heroes and Heartbreakers.” While double-checking on the ethnicity of the character Jem, I was disgusted to find, via this passionate post, that fans have been whitewashing the character, who is half Chinese.

While searching for that post again, I learned that the casting of an Asian actor as Magnus Bane in the movie “City of Bones” was also causing controversy amongst fans. It’s Rue of “The Hunger Games” all over again. Do people even actually read their so-called favorite books? They love these books enough to be upset by the casting, but not enough to have noticed their beloved characters aren’t white.

Here’s an especially charming quote from the comments of this post:

“I have always thought of Adam Lambert as Magnus! Adam has been doing theater since he was a kid and was in the cast of Wicked and Hair. He would make a fantastic Magnus if they could make some more of his features Asian.”

Actually, that one is really just thoughtless and naive. The reactions captured by “racebending” are far worse. (Trigger warning for racism.)

Here’s an interesting post from Clare on the casting, and on readers whitewashing her characters. And an interview at racebending.com. Read the comments for criticisms on Clare’s portrayal of race.

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WTF Did I Just Read

crazy

I’m having the worst luck with Charlotte Lamb lately. First there was Savage Stockholm Syndrome Surrender and now Betrayal. AKA Rapey, Cruel, Entitled Men and the Insane Women Who Love Them.

What gets me the most about Betrayal though, is it knows how crazy it is. Here’s the basic plot, with plenty o’ spoilers:

Cathy accidentally falls in love with Muir while a conference, then has to tell him that she’s engaged. She won’t break her engagement because her fiance was badly injured. (I expected this to be the worst part of the book, the fact that Cathy is staying with her fiance only because he’s disabled. It was actually the least offensive part, since he’s pretty strong and sensible, and not in the market for pity love.) Muir is driven mad by love — yeah right — and rapes her, then somewhat accidentally knocks her down the stairs. He’s then arrested for rape and Cathy has temporary amnesia and can’t speak up for him; after he’s cleared, he refuses to believe she had amnesia, so he then kidnaps her and abuses her both physically and psychologically. Then somehow it all kind of dies down, he decides to believe her about her memory loss — for now? I bet he’ll be bringing it up constantly all the rest of their lives — and Bob’s your uncle. There’s no remorse. (I’m pretty sure everything resembling an apology is accompanied by a “but you made me…”) There’s no catharsis. There’s nothing satisfying to have made all that horror remotely worth reading.

And Cathy feels terribly guilty about forgetting him and him getting charged with rape, even knowing perfectly well that he did actually rape her. Because it wasn’t rape-rape. (How she actually puts it is, “there are rapes and rapes.”) And she knows he’s violent and cruel, and she’s freaking terrified of him, yet she loves him so it’s supposedly a happy ending.

None of this is sugar coated at all. Cathy’s fear is real. The rape is real. The violence is real. The fact that he will probably abuse her every day of her life until he snaps and kills her one day is unexpressed, but frighteningly real.

But what got me most was this throwaway line from Cathy’s friend, speaking about a co-worker:

“She rejoices in a mind which believes that what it wants it’s clearly entitled to.”

And neither of them seem to notice that this describes Muir to a T. But I bet Lamb did.

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I Choo-choo-choose You

possible

I used to be weirdly hooked on the show “Judge Judy” — don’t judge me! I judge myself! — and one of the funniest episode I remember was one in which a man is telling a story about how his neighbor went off on him because he called her cockatiel a cockatoo. And you can tell that the judge and everyone in the audience is thinking this man is completely round the bend — until the neighbor gets up to testify and immediately starts screeching about the fact that her bird is a cockatiel, not a cockatoo.

(I’m amused to see, btw, while looking up the spelling, that the cockatiel is in fact a variety of cockatoo.)

That came into my mind today after reading this piece by Julie Burchill lambasting intersectionality. She rushes to defend a friend accused of being transphobic and in doing so reveals herself to be pretty much the definition of transphobic.

“The idea that a person can chose their gender — in a world where millions of people, especially ‘cis-gendered’ women, are not free to choose who they marry, what they eat or whether or not their genitals are cut off and sewn up with barbed wire when they are still babies — and have their major beautification operations paid for by the National Health Service seems the ultimate privilege, so don’t tell me to check mine. “

I had no idea that we have the privilege of choosing our gender. Somehow I missed that option when choosing my race and sexual orientation. And how handy to be able to choose again, if you were accidentally born into a culture which discriminates against you.  Why don’t all those tortured women just choose not to be women, for fuck’s sake?

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Rant: The Italian’s Suitable Wife by Lucy Monroe

(Minor spoilers)

Monroe went from being my favorite Harlequin Presents writer to being one of my worst romance “allergies” — the meandering, circular conversations make it almost impossible for me to get through one of her books these days. But Ros Clarke’s recent comments got me to try this one, and it was interesting enough for me to finish. I’d agree with pretty much everything Ros says, except for me there was an extra level of cringe. I’m still trying to decide if it was funny-cringe or omg-burn-it-with-fire cringe.

Monroe often writes books with medical/reproductive themes and generally does a decent job, given the space and fantasy limitations of an HP. Her story with a heroine with severe endometriosis, The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain, is one of my favorites.  This story involves IUI, which I know very little about, and I’ll assume the description was reasonably accurate. (By the way, what is going on with the term IVF being used as romance shorthand to indicate “any kind of fertility intervention”? That is very annoying.) It’s what happens right after the painful  procedure (it’s considerably more invasive than a turkey baster) that really made my eyes roll. I don’t know how I’m supposed to enjoy a sex scene when I’m wincing so hard, and worried about the heroine’s safety.

The story is… insensitive around disability, to say the least. Rico is partially paralyzed and impotent after an accident, so he feels like he’s not “whole” on several levels. This is understandable enough for someone only recently disabled, but couldn’t there have been some counter-balance to it, aside from Gianna worshipfully assuring him that she doesn’t feel that way? Like Ros, I thought it was cool that their sex life is shown as very satisfying despite the lack of intercourse, and I wish there hadn’t been so much undermining that positive side.

The end of the story brought on one last face-palm. See, having twins is all about how studly the dude is. His sperm is so powerful it even brought on an extra egg release, I guess.

If this sort of thing doesn’t bother you, it’s a pretty emotional story. But I couldn’t turn my brain off enough to really enjoy it.

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Sloppy With a Chance of Boredom

(I have to use this gif again, because it’s just too perfect. Perhaps it’ll become my signature gif.)

We took our son to see “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and squirmed miserably through the whole thing. (My husband even nodded off at one point.) Although it did an admirable job of not driving home jokes from the previous movie too much into the ground, the pacing was completely off, the transitions were sloppily done, and the whole thing felt badly in need of more work. And the new characters took weird to a whole other level; the premise was fantastical enough itself without needing a science fiction villain.  I think it’s interesting that every bit of advertising I’ve seen has completely eliminated the new characters.

It’s especially sad because I have to contrast it with the last children’s movie I saw, “Despicable Me 2,” which left me feeling like I’d been slugged in the jaw by the sexism fairy. I know it’s my job as a mom to talk to my kid about things that offend me, but how do I even bring this up? “Well young son, that scene with the drugged woman being dragged around unconscious and treated as a joke and an object upset me because it reminded me of a real live case I hope you have never heard of in which a bunch of men did actually that to a drunk woman.” The other, myriad instances of sexism and racism would also be hard to explain without the background to understand them.

By contrast, “Cloudy 2” has a smart, straight-talking, and capable female character, who does some of the rescuing herself.  Although she is in peril at times, she’s never alone — most of the other characters are in just as deep.  And although her relationship with the movie’s hero has a touch of romance, they are obviously true best friends. 

Son thought the movie was awesome. He loves cuteness, and as a budding marketing genius, immediately saw the potential for adorable stuffed toys (he wants a “Barry” strawberry lovey, and he shall have one — when they’re available commercially and not $80 on ebay.) It’s kind of cool too, now that I think about it, to see a movie that isn’t marketed specifically for girls but has so much cute in it. And unlike, say, “Wreck-it Ralph,” its cuteness isn’t gendered.

So if nothing else, I guess I can be happy that my son didn’t recognize how crappy this otherwise was, and gets to be exposed to some more positive messages about women than he usually gets from movies. I’ll just be sure to have a crossword puzzle book handy when it comes to Netflix.

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Rant: The Highest Stakes of All by Sara Craven

Those who know me well know I sometimes like to kick it old skool. But as I read The Highest Stakes of All and skimmed around — because I also like to do that — I started to feel uneasy. There’s “old skool” and then there’s “what the hell is this?”  Even for a Sara Craven hero, this guy seemed extra rapey with potential slaver sauce on top — he not only essentially buys the heroine from her father, but he actually threatens to resell her to someone else when he’s done with her. Okay, there’s a line even a dark romance hero should not cross and unapologetically selling people as sex slaves is definitely on the other side of it. 

Then I happened to see this on an inner page at the beginning of the book:

Harlequin Presents is pleased to present this new and exciting miniseries!

The Untamed

Arrogant and proud, unashamedly male!

HarlequinPresents with a retro twist…

Step back in time to when men were men — and women knew just how to tame them!

[For those not in the known, that would be by turning out to be virgins instead of sluts. And developing Stockholm Syndrome on cue.]

It’s totally hypocritical of me, but wow did that put me off.  Of course category authors have always written to suit the market — and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that! Naturally authors want to sell their books. And Harlequin has always been very deliberate about targeting its audiences, which is why it has so many different lines. (And for a time, had such blatantly — if not always reliably — descriptive titles.) That’s what Harlequin does.  Considering my brand loyalty to Harlequin Presents, I can’t argue with it as a tactic.

But like this book’s hero, this promotion seems a step beyond. For one thing, it’s kind of insulting to both women and men. I know there are readers who genuinely do believe that old skool romance heroes were “real men” and thus more interesting, but most of us would not touch one with a ten foot pole wrapped in a ten foot condom in real life. And we’re glad to know men who are unashamedly not assholes.

And calling our beloved books “retro,” as if they’re some hip, ironic thing… that grates my cheese. I’m not saying I never read Harlequin Presents ironically, because sometimes they’re just damn funny.  But that’s not something I plan — it’s something that just happens. When the The Unfeasibly Tall Billionaire… appeared,  I most loved the chapters that conveyed a sense of genuine affection for the line.  Kind of like my love/hate relationship with the books of Penny Jordan.

The promotion also doesn’t appear to be very effective. Not only does this book have less than a 3 star overall rating — with 40% 1-2 stars — but many reviewers found it not only offensive but boring on top of it. And there is no worse crime for a Harlequin Presents.

I suspect most of these readers sensed the essential insincerity of this book — that it was being deliberately written to try to appeal to them instead of somehow having that magic chemistry that results in reader consent to serious whatthefuckery. You can’t bottle that stuff. And you can’t write it on demand.

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