Military Romance

gi-jane

GI Jane – not my favourite sort of romance heroine!

RT Magazine had an article recently, about US military romance. It featured interviews with some authors whose books I’ve enjoyed.

However, the tone of the article really annoyed me.

I said for a long time that romantic suspense was my favourite subgenre, but I probably have more fingers than I need to count the suspense books I’ve read in the past few years. The main reason for that is because I can’t identify with the gun-toting, smart-talking, superhero women in recent books.

I read a lot of blurbs – even of books I get for free – before deciding against reading them.

This article was all about how bad romantic suspense books are when the heroine isn’t at least as big and tough and rough as the hero.

And I’m sorry, but I disagree.

Once again, we’ve gone down the route of mistaking gun skills and punching people with gender equality. A woman doesn’t have to BECOME a man in order to be strong. And too many authors in this genre seem to think that is the case.

I don’t want my heroines to spend the whole book flopping around uselessly and waiting to be rescued, but I would like a little bit more balance. There are too many romantic suspense heroines today who terrify me!

The reason I loved this genre so much was for the Suzanne Brockmanns of a decade or more ago. Sure, the men might have had the physical advantage, but that didn’t make the heroines weak, and it didn’t mean they weren’t stronger in other ways. In fact, one of the best things about those books was that even though the heroine often lacked the training the men had, she rose to the occasion.

Her appeal to the hero was that she was stronger than he could have believed she was.

Military heroines can be done brilliantly. Case in point: Kaylea Cross. But they can also be so “cool” that I start to dislike them. You don’t need to be good with guns to be a strong person.

I might be alone in feeling this way, but everything I’ve read has said romantic suspense has gone out of fashion in the past few years, so surely I’m not. Even some of my old favourites are now writing exclusively GI Jane heroines, and I no longer read what they write.

Does every heroine really have to be in the Special Forces? Because a lot of those heroines might have the credentials, but I often discover they’re the weakest and wimpiest characters in the end. In fact, one of the books in the article is one I gave a scathing review to because of the superficially “tough” but actually wimpy, weak and useless heroine. She was allegedly a military superhero, and it didn’t make her strong!

Is it really such a crime if just occasionally it’s the hero, rather than the heroine, who does something heroic? Just once every so often?

The only place you can still find the romantic suspense of a decade ago is in Harlequin/Mills and Boon, it seems. I’ve actually seen authors there who comment that their editors told them they’d made the hero too weak and let the heroine save the day on her own, and please don’t do that!

I don’t always agree with how conservative category romance is. However, surely there’s a balance between the two extremes. That’s what I want to read.

Those “Strong Heroines”

One quick internet search will turn up a gazillion articles about how people are getting so-called strong heroines wrong, both in books and in Hollywood. About how recently the idea has been that if you stick a gun in the hand of a doormat, then that’s it. Or dress your doormat like a lumberjack, and then she’s obviously not one of those silly girly girls.

I keep trying to read more romantic suspense, but I am having a bit of trouble finding what I want to read. And I’ve recently realised it’s because of this very issue.

Some people criticise romantic suspense for turning women into victims, and I do know that is sometimes – sometimes – the case. I guess as a result of this, recently I’ve been able to find almost exclusively suspense books with gun-toting women who reject makeup and dresses.

Suddenly – apparently – they’re empowered because of their deadly accessories and lack of fashion sense. They’re allegedly better than past women in romantic suspense.

I don’t think so!

There are a lot of books coming out now with heroines who are in the Special Forces – something that isn’t yet (but will soon be) a reality. But… have you SEEN a Special Forces soldier?

US Navy SEAL Training.

US Navy SEALs

How am I supposed to relate to women like that?!

There are always exceptions to the rule. Kaylea Cross writes some of the best suspense out there, and her Bagram Special Ops series is not only brilliant, but features heroines who are in the military. This is a perfect example of how to do it right.

However, for every Kaylea Cross, there’re a million others who are sticking guns in their heroines’ hands and still making them weak. I’m reading about Special Forces heroines who still spend the whole book crying and getting gang raped and being cared for by all the men around them. They’re the characters having breakdowns at unfortunate, dangerous times.

There’s NO difference between these women and any other romance heroine – except they have a gun in their hand and dirt on their face while they’re doing things.

Series that have been running for a while, both in romantic suspense and paranormal romance, have run-of-the-mill heroines in the earlier books, and martial artist, warrior heroines in the later books. Everyone’s jumping on the superhero leading lady bandwagon.

Some people are doing a great job with it.

However, I’m missing heroines I can relate to. Which is why I’m reading less romantic suspense now than I ever have.

That strange “rule” about romance fiction never tackling anything serious

You hear all the time that romance fiction is supposed to be an escape, a fantasy, an anything along those lines. As if you have to keep things light and fluffy and unrealistic at all times.

No problem with that – I want to read something like that sometimes.

However, when did this become the RULE?

I like reality. I really, really do. I enjoy darker stories, and I love books that incorporate the real world into them. Whether it’s showing life as it really was in the nineteenth century, or if it’s showing twenty-first century characters struggling with real world issues, for me there’s something much more rewarding about people finding their way to each other under difficult, realistic circumstances.

However, I’ve been coming across so many comments recently that tell me I might be in the minority.

Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers #1) by Pamela ClareThe Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

More realistic books!

For example, a recent discussion about accuracy in historical romance. I mentioned that I’m becoming less and less tolerant of anachronistic characters who act like they live in the present day. I said I wanted to see people living in the society of the time.

‘I would HATE that!’ came the replies.

I was confused. I didn’t ever like Disney much to begin with, but as an adult I don’t want to read fairy tales where there’re no true obstacles of struggles. If a book is in the past (and more often than not, the author gives us as specific year and month the book is set) then why am I weird for wanting to read about that time?

But worse than that is the reaction so many have to romantic suspense.

I’m told so often that it’s an awful, weird genre, and it has no redeeming features, and that I’m somehow a horrible person for reading it.

However, I’m not making any excuses for reading books by some brilliant authors. Yes, romantic suspense has taken a few funny turns in the past few years, and subsequently there’s not all that much of it available. What is coming out is all carbon-copy Navy SEAL stuff where most of the plot is sex, and guns appear as something “sexy” rather than out of necessity to the storyline.

To the Brink by Cindy GerardOver the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann

Incredible romantic suspense!

I get that people have problems with books like that, but you’ll never convince me books like To the Brink, Over the Edge, Deadly Descent and Hard Evidence are not great reads and don’t treat issues sensitively. I love authors who take on real issues with the world and how people’s emotions and relationships are affected by them.

I’d much prefer to read a book like those than yet another Navy SEAL returns to small town Texas to take over his father’s ranch, and he meets the local librarian/wedding planner and they spend the rest of their days making adorable babies.

Romantic suspense can definitely take from real life. One of the best real life love stories I’ve heard in the past year was about two people who joined in the revolution in Ukraine. In the middle of all that chaos they fell in love and married in a tent on the main square, in the middle of the demonstrations.

These are the kind of stories I want to read. Call me crazy, but I don’t just read romantic fiction for an escape. If a SEAL appears in a story, I want him to be realistic, not someone with no scars from his experiences and a desire to do nothing more than settle down into suburbia. Not only is that not interesting to me, but it’s so far from believable I can’t jump into the fantasy of it.

Maybe I am crazy, but I don’t think I’m the ONLY reader in the world who thinks romance can bring more to the table than a little bit of forgettable nonsense. I don’t think romance needs to be mindless fluff, and I don’t think we should expect to turn to other genres to be challenged by a book.

What I want to see in 2015: Romantic Suspense

To the Brink by Cindy Gerard

What happened? I vowed to read much more romantic suspense in 2014, but only ended up reading a handful of books in the genre. There are some brilliant romantic suspense writers, and many of my favourite books are in this genre.

However, many of the better writers have moved over to contemporary romance or young adult fiction, leaving a big gap. I’d like to see a few things.

  • Much less dependence on tropes. Telling your readers your hero is or was a navy SEAL does not a book make. If you’re going to use that oh-so tired trope, then please do enough research to make your hero believable in the role. But really, why not do away with it all together? There could and should be more to romantic suspense than “Hot SEALs”.
  • I’d like to see authors tackle some real life issues rather than creating big, fake trafficking rings with cartoonishly evil villains. There’s a big, nasty world out there, and I’d like to see more authors taking it on.
  • Ease up on the tragic backstories. Your hero and heroine don’t both have to have been raised on the streets after escaping abusive parents. They don’t have to have witnessed their best friend being tortured to death at age ten. They don’t have to have a history of abusive relationships. They don’t need all this tragedy heaped on tragedy – as well as a traumatic experience in the book itself! Overdone tragedy doesn’t necessarily mean a better book.

Hunted (Hostage Rescue Team) by Kaylea Cross

I want to be as in love with romantic suspense as I used to be. I don’t know what happened, but I feel a little like the genre went stale a couple of years ago. There’re still some brilliant authors – Cindy Gerard and Kaylea Cross, for example – but I hope in 2015 I’ll find more brilliance. I want to read lots of exciting books, not lots of lukewarm melodramas about former SEALs with commitment issues.

Secondary Female Characters

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

I had been thinking about it a long time before Dear Author published a piece about female relatives and friends (or, rather, the lack of them) in romance fiction.

I was actually dismayed by the responses to the article, because many people – and most of them authors – defended this huge gaping hole in the genre. In fact, it made me quite mad. The general consensus seems to be that it’s too much of a hassle for a romance heroine to have a mother, or a female friend. “But then we’d have to devote pages of our books to other female characters!” seems to be the general argument against it.

Sure – but how come dozens of pages are already devoted to the hero’s gang of sexy duke spy/navy SEAL/biker stud man friends? How come there’s all sorts of page time being made for male character after male character after male character? How come we always get to see the men messing around and having a few beers to relax, and to see the honourable hero doing everything he can to rescue his troubled/abducted/depressed little brother?

How come secondary male characters are constantly added to make the heroes look noble, but having more than one decent woman in a story is too much of a hassle?

Stupid Girl by Cindy Miles

One of the worst offenders!

I’m tired of authors giving their heroes and heroines now-dead mothers who abused them in their childhoods. I’m tired of other women the heroine’s age only turning up in books in order to be a romantic rival (and of course she’s always both beautiful and a horrible person!).

Including women in your characters’ lives is perfectly normal, and it doesn’t have to derail a story.

Hunted (Hostage Rescue Team) by Kaylea Cross

For example, after the heroine was rescued in Kaylea Cross’ Hunted, the comment is made that:

“Celida’s gonna want to see you again, and your parents too.”

They’d all come to the hospital to check on her.

There. We learn she has a mother and that she gets on with her mother. And that she has a female friend who is worried about her. Putting other women in the heroine’s life didn’t ruin the book, and it didn’t mean they needed twenty chapters devoted to them! With only a few words we were told that the heroine has healthy female relationships.

Virgin River by Robyn Carr

In Robyn Carr’s Virgin River, our widowed heroine is moving to a new town in the middle of nowhere. But she has a sister she is best friends with. A couple of phone calls and a brief visit on the sister’s part just made our heroine seem like a normal human being with normal, healthy relationships. The sister didn’t ruin the romance!

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

One of my favourite things about Madeline Hunter’s Fairbourne Quartet is that her heroines depend on each other for various things. They are capable of achieving things on their own or together, without the heroes having to sweep in and do everything for them. For example, the sister who is depressed and has become a recluse, but she gradually develops a friendship with the book’s heroine. The heroine who runs a small printing business to help aristocratic women escaping from Revolutionary France. The socially isolated heroine who shares stories of her marriage in letters to another of the series’ heroines.

Too often in series, the heroines fade into oblivion after their own book. They’ve become a wife (and often also a mother) and therefore their importance to the world is apparently over. Series where the women continue to be active in the world the author created are so much richer for the experience.

Dear Author is known for tackling all sorts of issues, but while they often call people out on issues of race, I’ve been astonished at their lack of interest in issues of gender. That they could review what is possibly the most misogynistic series ever written and not once mention all the sexism told me they’re not all that interested in tackling anti-feminist attitudes in romance. An odd thing, seeing as the genre they focus on is mainly targeted at women.

Walking-Disaster-Cover-2 by Jamie McGuire

I found the piece an interesting read, but I found the reactions to it really disheartening. It seems we’ve a long way to go before we can ditch the misogynistic attitudes that have been ingrained in us. Secondary female characters can – and should – be more than the nasty romantic rival. We’re better than that.

Best of 2014

As with every year, these are – in no particular order – the books that entertained me the most this year. Many of them are 2014 releases, but not all of them!

I hadn’t planned on my reading to go the way it did this year. I expected to read more suspense than I did, and my ongoing obsession with historical fiction really derailed things!

 

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

night broken_front mech.indd

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare

Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare Second Cover

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

Marriage Made in Money by Sophia James

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Captive by Grace Burrowes

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Counterfeit Mistress by Madeline Hunter

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

Fair Game by Patricia Briggs

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Carnal Gift by Pamela Clare

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Midnight’s Wild Passion by Anna Campbell

Surrender by Pamela Clare

Surrender (MacKinnon’s Rangers #1) by Pamela Clare

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden

A 1950s Housewife (nonfiction) by Sheila Hardy

 A 1950s Housewife by Sheila Hardy

 

And a book that will be released in 2015:

 

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

Temptation Has Green Eyes by Lynne Connolly

The Week: 17th – 23rd November

It’s SO HOT in Canberra.

Maidan 21st November 2014 One Year Since

This week marked a year since the beginning of the revolution in Ukraine. Thirteen Ukrainians a day are still being killed by Russians, despite there supposedly being a ceasefire.

This week the Russian government also announced they’re worried Ukraine is going to “invade” eastern Ukraine. The fact that Ukraine is Ukraine – not Russia – seems to be beyond comprehension for their small, stupid minds.

 Socks Kitten Queanbeyan Australia 22nd November 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

On Saturday we said goodbye to the first of our kittens, Socks. I didn’t want to see him go. That came after a pretty crazy trip to the vet with three kittens. That was an interesting experience!

My review of Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye

Strangers at the Altar by Marguerite Kaye

My review of Hunted by Kaylea Cross

Hunted (Hostage Rescue Team) by Kaylea Cross

My review of Ruining Mr. Perfect by Marie Harte

Ruining Mr. Perfect (The McCauley Brothers #3) by Marie Harte

My review of The Laird by Grace Burrowes

The Laird by Grace Burrowes

Hunted by Kaylea Cross

 Hunted (Hostage Rescue Team) by Kaylea Cross

She’s the one woman he can’t have.

Past experience has taught FBI Special Agent Clay Bauer not to trust his judgment when it comes to the opposite sex, yet despite his jaded outlook there’s one woman he can’t get out of his head—and she’s off limits. They’re opposites in every way but Zoe’s gotten deep under his skin and when she’s drawn into a dangerous situation against a faceless enemy he steps in to help protect her. Then she disappears without a trace and the loss leaves him reeling. Now he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back alive.

By the time he realises what she means to him it could be too late.

Former family lawyer Zoe Renard has been through her own heartbreak but she can’t ignore the magnetic pull between her and Clay. When he comes to New Orleans for a conference, it’s the perfect opportunity for her to see if there might be something real between them. Just as desire ignites into something more powerful than either of them imagined, she’s targeted by a madman bent on revenge. With her life on the line, it’s a race for Clay and his teammates to find her and save her from certain death.

Hunted (Hostage Rescue Team) by Kaylea Cross

I have fallen a little behind on Kaylea Cross’ books, even though she is one of my favourite romantic suspense authors. So I haven’t read anything in the Hostage Rescue Team series yet. All the same, Hunted was a great read and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too much backstory by reading out of order.

There’re a few things that set Cross apart from other authors in the genre.

The first thing is her excellent research. There’s no info-dumping, but the way the research is threaded through the book, popping up occasionally at appropriate places in the dialogue – this is what makes these books better than others.

Also, the characters act and react in ways you’d expect them to in dangerous situations. There’s no bizarre sex in inappropriate places, at inappropriate times, for example. If someone’s injured it has an effect on how they act. Trauma is real and doesn’t disappear after five minutes.

Hunted features a very unique heroine. I liked how her quirks were things some people loved and others found a bit strange. I liked how reactions to her were varied.

I also like books in this genre where hero and heroine have a bit of a past. If you’re going to put your main characters in grave danger, it often helps to have these people already caring about each other.

I will definitely be going back to read more in this series, as I haven’t yet read a Kaylea Cross book I haven’t loved. If only more authors of this genre wrote complex, believable stories. Romantic suspense in general could be so much better – and more popular – than is currently is.

 

Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Injuries and illness in the romance genre

First Aid

I get it. There’re a lot of people who approach romance as a fantasy genre, one where things aren’t supposed to be realistic. I HATE that approach, because it cheapens all the research and effort that goes into producing a good book, but that’s an argument for another day.

What I want to talk about is the way injury and illness is tackled in the genre. Because far too often it is nothing short of ridiculous.

Something that can and should change about romance books is the timeframe they cover. Even today many authors tend to have people meeting, in love, and engaged within an extremely short time period. Why they do it that way, I have no idea. It wouldn’t hurt anything to make it more realistic.

However, because it is so rushed that means that any big, exciting thing like a plane crash has to be dealt with and forgotten immediately. You don’t want some pesky disease or grave injury interrupting the physical aspect of a relationship, now, do you?

Four books I read recently really got me thinking about this.

In book #1 – a Regency romance – the hero was in a coma for two months. Everyone thought he was going to die. Then one day he miraculously wakes up, and is talking and acting normally immediately. He is even able to dress in full aristocratic Regency attire and make it downstairs to sit at the dinner table that same evening.

In book #2 – a Wild West historical romance – one of the hero’s many, many injuries over the course of the book is a serious head injury that puts him into a coma for weeks. Cared for at home by his very young and naïve wife and nobody else, he randomly wakes up one day, sits up immediately, and starts making jokes and thinking about sex.

In book #3 – a category romantic suspense – hero and heroine are in a plane crash, in which the heroine dislocates her shoulder. Within an hour, her shoulder is back in place and apparently “just like new” (and nothing like bandaging or a sling is ever mentioned), and the two of them are climbing all over the wreckage and doing manual labour. Two days later they’re trekking through the jungle and having lots of sex. Apparently a crashed plane results in no back or neck pain, nor anything broken (unless you’re a secondary character).

In book #4 – a Regency romance – the heroine badly sprains her ankle. It takes about half a day before it’s all forgotten, and she’s gallivanting about like nothing ever happened.

WHY do books have to be this way? Why do they have to be so unbelievable? In each case the timeframe could have been broadened enough to make it realistic, and I would have been able to concentrate on the story instead of obsessing over how unrealistic it was.

And yes, it can be done realistically. A few examples:

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas. Victorian Romance.

The heroine is bitten by a snake. She suffers a terrible reaction to it on the first night, and then spends some time weak and getting better. Her illness gives hero and heroine time to spend together, getting to know each other better.

Deadly Descent by Kaylea Cross. Military Romance.

The heroine’s helicopter is shot down. When the Pararescue Jumper hero finds her, she has suffered a major knee injury and can hardly move let alone walk out of there. It isn’t until some time later, after she has had surgery, that anything physical between them is even considered.

Seduce me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas. Victorian Romance.

The heroine almost died of scarlet fever, and though she survived it left her extremely weak. She eventually travels to France for a radical treatment to try and regain her strength. She is a transformed person when she is reunited with the hero a good while later on.

To the Brink and Into the Dark by Cindy Gerard. Romantic Suspense.

In both books the heroes are shot. Their recoveries are covered realistically, which throws up all kinds of opportunities for character development and for the relationships to grow.

There is absolutely no point whatsoever including illness and injury in a book unless it actually changes the people it has happened to. What’s the point in a dislocated shoulder that is forgotten on the next page? Why even put it in there to begin with? What’s the point in a coma if there’re no effects that last longer than a couple of hours?

Even if the author hasn’t personally experienced these injuries, common sense should tell them how crazy those recoveries were. Exercising a bit of common sense would make for a much better book.

The Week: 12th – 18th May

Autumn Canberra Australia 12th May 2014 Sonya Heaney Oksana Heaney

Canberra is very pretty in autumn!

Hmm. Another odd week. I seem to be drifting back into my historical fiction reading obsession. I’ve been looking for some new review books, but everything is wedding planner gets pregnant or wedding planner falls for brother’s best friend or Navy SEAL goes home to his ranch in Texas or New Adult book about another MMA fighter misogynist thug who falls for the Plain Jane virgin.

God, genre fiction is boring me to tears these days!

 Australia Ukraine Support 15th May 2014

My aunt was amongst the Ukrainians attending a meeting with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and others at Australia’s Parliament House here in Canberra on Thursday. Here’s another statement for Russians (not that they’ll be listening through their propaganda-induced haze):

Australia stands united with the Ukrainian people in this ordeal and calls on Russia again to change course. The deliberate destabilisation within Ukraine must stop. The results of the so-called referendum in Ukraine’s eastern providences will not be recognised as legitimate by Australia.

Before the Kiss by Jayne Fresina is still free

Before the Kiss (Book Club Belles Society #0.5) by Jayne Fresina

My review of The Secrets of Bell River by Kathleen O’Brien

The Secrets of Bell River by Kathleen O'Brien

My review of Stupid Girl by Cindy Miles

Stupid Girl by Cindy Miles

My review of Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

Danger Close by Kaylea Cross

My review of A Husband’s Regret by Natasha Anders

A Husband's Regret (An Unwanted Novel) by Natasha Anders

Thoughts on a scary book cover.

The Heart and the Holly (Hearts and the Lands #3) by Nancy Richards-Akers