When I was a teenager, I used to stealthily peruse the Romance section at Barnes and Noble and then just skim till I got to the sex scenes which were, I assumed, the only reason people read Romance novels. I had gotten the impression that Romance was essentially porn for discreet ladies.
Anyhow, until a few years ago, this was my only experience with Romance. But in a recent determination to read more widely and outside my usual tastes, I’ve read a few, the latest of which is Wired, by Julie Garwood. I gathered from the jacket material that this is a series of novels, each stand-alone but with interlocking characters. I did not enjoy the novel much, but somehow still managed to finish it all. And, this time around, I even found myself skimming over/skipping the sex scenes, which I found rather predictable.
Before I go any further, let me explain: 1) I don’t think Romance novels really need reviewing. I still see them as bubble gum more than a meal, and as such, the standards are low. 2) Julie Garwood has already sold more books than I probably ever will, so who am I to judge a model that is clearly working for her?
But judge I will:
1) The characters were actually interesting. Well, not Allison, the main character. She seemed to be pulled in too many directions. Can she really be a hacker-genius, a college student, a fashion model, a philanthropist-hacker, a victim of emotional abuse, and super hot all together? I’m all for complicated characters, but this seemed like it was trying to hard to suggest that Allison really was a total package.
2) The biggest problem with making her so awesome at everything is that none of those things really did anything except get her into trouble. Her hot non-boyfriend FBI agent got her out of all the trouble. While there are plenty of plot points that show she’s great at hacking and drop dead gorgeous on the runway, neither of these skills saves her when she is in trouble. In fact, her attempts only get her into more trouble. While I understand that the Knight in Shining Armor (or in this case, a knight frequently out of armor, if you catch my drift) is probably a staple of the romance genre, I found it bland. I kept hoping Allison’s skills would be more than a convenient way to meet hot, dangerous men and instead a way she could change, progress. Which isn’t to say that she doesn’t make hard choices or learn lessons, but they were rarely as a result of her key skills being challenged, tested, and overcome.
3) Last but not least, Agent Liam Scott was hot, but not sexy. I guess lots of ladies may find it a turn-on for men to take control, etc, but Liam’s possessiveness was flat-out annoying. There seemed to be some mystery about it, too, an assumption that perhaps he was spying on her. It was all so creepy and unhealthy that I couldn’t help wondering if the un-revealed villain was not Liam all along. I knew it wouldn’t be because that’s not how these sorts of books work—he’s rough but he has to be inherently good—but still…not that others haven’t come to this realization before, but romance novels don’t do much to demystify toxic masculinity or to emphasis female empowerment. That being said, he did have a knack for showing up right when she was in trouble. Plus, he looks great in (and out) of a suit, so what more could a woman want?
Which is all to say, I am not against love stories or steamy scenes. But I think that if I’m every going to be truly convinced by a Romance novel, the woman will have to save herself.