Books to Counter Kavanaugh – Breaking the Silence by Katie Allen

No, I’m not American, but the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Brett Kavanaugh – and the subsequent misogynistic victim-blaming movement emerging out of it – is reverberating around the world.

So, I’ve moved all my scheduled posts for the week, and instead will be recommending some books that deal with the reality of what women are up against when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.

Breaking the Silence by Katie Allen

Breaking the Silence by Katie Allen

Don’t be deceived by the cover. When this book came out a decade ago it was considered pretty groundbreaking in its sensitive plotline involving sexual assault.

Unfortunately, with the collapse of the original publisher, I’m not sure how easy it is to get your hands on a copy of this one now.

Here’s what it’s about:

After enduring a horrific childhood, William Jackson lives a solitary existence working as a computer programmer from his Minnesota home. His safe routine is blown to pieces when the daily sight of an unknown woman walking her dog sends his heart into a tailspin.

Jenny Fitzgerald’s love life is at a definite low. Her only potential date in sight is her annoying and creepy coworker, Evan—until a stunning man appears before her like a gift from some kindly sex god. Who is she to turn down what’s offered to her on a hunky blond platter?

Will and Jenny’s friendship develops as their hunger grows into love. Meanwhile, a jealous Evan watches, his rage building until it explodes in a brutal act of violence that tears Jenny’s life apart. Will struggles to help her rebuild her courage and sense of self as his own demons and fragile memories threaten their chance at happiness—but perhaps they can learn to heal each other.

Reader Advisory: This book contains a realistic, violent near-rape scene.

Happily Ever After

The Rebel Cowboy's Quadruplets by Tina Leonard Harlequin American Romance

In recent years romantic fiction has finally woken up to the fact one particular (husband, 2.5, dog, picket fence) version of a happy ending is not a happy ending for everyone, and that it shouldn’t be the same for every character in every book.

Some authors give their heroes and heroines in their series different HEAs. Others make them all live by their own personal idea of how life is “supposed” to be. My favourite authors are those who give their characters the babylogue only if it suits both characters and plot. So, while I expect to see it in historical romances, I certainly expect contemporary characters to give their options serious thought before diving in.

I know some readers don’t understand why not every book ends with the (too often painfully sugary for me!) babylogue these days. A romance isn’t complete unless they have children by the end! one woman complained – a woman who admitted she’d got pregnant on her wedding night and didn’t consider herself “married” until the children arrived.

Holy hell, what if they have children a few years later and take some time to travel and sort out a mortgage first! Why can’t books finish with a promise of the 2.5 and picket fence future instead of cramming it all in the first year the couple is together!

Recently a popular author was posting this image all over social media:

 Instagram Lisa Wingate

Aw. How true. People were saying. That’s exactly how I feel about it.

Firstly, I was a little offended. I thought we were living in an age where women weren’t raised to believe they HAD to have the perfect, loving husband and a couple of perfect kids in order for their life to have worth.

More than that, I thought the romance genre had evolved to the point authors and readers believed that, too! Now, I know your romance is going to be a bit of a disaster if you don’t have your heroine end up with her hero, but I thought the image of life’s worth coming from childrearing, and this image working as an advertisement for the romance genre, was a little bit narrow-minded.

Some romance series tend to feel samey after a few books because everyone ends up with the same happy ending. You have entire series (and some of these are series I otherwise enjoy) where women who had no plans for children all suddenly give up their careers to raise a brood.

A couple of my favourite authors, Robyn Carr and Pamela Clare, are very guilty of this. I have other favourites who don’t impregnate their heroines once every series instalment, and who write heroines much more likely to continue pursuing their other dreams, children or no children.

This works much, much better for me.

All that maternal stuff? It never happened to me. Most people I know have children. Some have four. I have never seen the appeal, never will, and I know I don’t need gorgeous little be-ringleted twins to complete my happy ending.

I hope romance writing keeps taking chances and recognising women aren’t the Borg, and don’t all want, believe and do the same things. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

What’s wrong with being nice?

There’s a book I read a little while ago that I really enjoyed: Willow Springs by Toni Blake.

 Willow Springs (2012) (The fifth book in the Destiny series) by Toni Blake

However, predictably, the reviews were mixed. Now, people have every right to dislike a book, but the reasons negative reviewers were giving annoyed me quite a lot.

They didn’t take issue with the writing or the plot. What they took issue with was the heroine. Mostly because she was a virgin, but also because in a series of heroines who tend to be extroverted, Amy was much more reserved.

I’m NOT saying that you have to be a virgin to be nice, but for all of the people saying how unrealistic Amy was, there were plenty of others coming forwards and saying they really appreciated the character, the book and the circumstances. The virgin thing isn’t what I appreciated; what I appreciated was that in many aspects of her life, I felt like I understood her – and liked her.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on modern day romance heroines and making them more up to date. I am 100% on board with this, because some of the old school books are many decades out of date. Hell, even Fifty Shades of Grey is woefully inaccurate, with a university graduate who doesn’t even have a computer or understand the internet!

On one hand, I bristled A LOT when I read romance discussion forums and came across half a gazillion women complaining they don’t like new books because the women are ‘shrews’. Being confident, modern and successful are not bad things! And if the men can be those things, why can’t the women?

However, there’s this weird belief that in order to be a modern woman a character has to be a bit pushy, supremely confident, and quite happy to punch someone in the face if they annoy them.

In Willow Springs, we have a heroine who is running a business, has solid female friendships, and is best friends with the hero. She isn’t some silly little weak-willed ninny, but nor is she a gun-toting superhero. It could even be said the reason she has been overlooked by men her whole life is because she’s nice. And when a flashier, more confident woman turns up in town, guess who the hero goes after?

I am on the record a million times saying I hate books where women only exist to be rivals, but I thought Willow Springs handled it well. I also saw in Amy someone whose actions I understood. She didn’t have to be a superhero to be a good heroine. A woman can be overlooked for reasons other than that she lives in her father’s hand-me-down lumberjack outfits and gets laughed at by the ‘mean’ cheerleaders (cough*Twilight*cough). That is not Amy.

I suppose there’s a middle ground that authors aren’t searching for as often as I want. People who can be strong at the same time as being nice. People who can have their lives together without a man in it, but still want a relationship. Heroines who can be a combination of different traits instead of one or the absolute, total other.

Mostly, I want more heroines who are nice, and who I genuinely like and wouldn’t mind being similar to.

Defending the Indefensible

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Look. I get it. Sometimes we enjoy a book that we really shouldn’t. It has horrible themes or the so-called romantic hero does something that in real life we’d want to see him in prison for. Stormfire is one of the most revolting books I’ve ever read, and yet I can see why it’s so popular.

Stormfire by Christine Monson

I. Get. It.

But can we not say: ‘Sure, it’s terrible, but I enjoy the book DESPITE those horrible things’??

Is that really so very hard to say?

I say this now because the Outlander television show has put the wife-beating and marital rape in the book back in the spotlight. And so many women that I despair of my gender are scrambling to come up with a million new excuses for it.

I’m not going to rehash the whole thing. If you haven’t heard of Outlander, here’s the plot in a nutshell:

  • 1940s Englishwoman is accidentally transported back to the 1740s in Scotland.
  • She’s forced to marry a (conveniently sexy) man for her own protection.
  • She tries to get back to her own time and her husband there, and gets captured by those “evil” Englishmen along the way.
  • Her new husband rescues her and “has to” punish her (for being captured and nearly raped!) by putting a knee in her back and beating her with his sword belt.
  • This turns him on, and he congratulates himself for not raping her then and there.
  • But not to worry: he has sex with her soon after, even though she’s begging him to stop because he’s hurting her.

That is absolutely not the whole plot, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of the book, and I have subscribed to the show – despite the subpar lead actress. I occasionally reread my favourite parts of the book.

Outlander Starz Jamie and Claire Episode One Sonya Heaney -

But please go HERE and HERE and HERE.

Because too many romance readers are falling over themselves to excuse a wife-beater because they’re worried they can’t enjoy the book unless they do. The people who prompted this particular post are contributors to a major romance blog, and their defence of it all… well. Anybody who says we don’t need feminism needs to ask why we still live in a world where women will excuse violence against women as long as the man doing it is hot.

I’m not really saying anything new here. But I’d just like to remind people that sure, read what you like. But you don’t need to become a rape apologist while you do it.