Tagged: carolina dreaming Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Corrina Lawson 3:00 pm on 2018/05/17 Permalink
    Tags: , carolina dreaming, cheryl etchison, christmas on crimson mountain, deeanna gist, , , , kasey michaels, , , michelle major, once and for all: an american valor novel, , , tender texan, texan's reward, , the lurid lady lockport, the rake, tiffany girl, , when the stars fall down   

    The Great RITA Read: Trauma and Recovery in Romance Novels 

    Perhaps the single biggest misconception about books in the romance genre is that they’re fluff.

    I’m up to 70 books in my Great RITA Read, and I cannot stress how wrong this assumption is. There are so many stories of women dealing with real-life issues, so many heroines who have suffered horrible traumas, including, but not limited to: the deaths of beloved family members; sexual assault; exile; cancer; and crushing poverty.

    However, their stories are not about their traumas.

    The stories are about their recoveries.

    Most of these romances begin not when the heroines are traumatized, but when they have decided to take action to improve their lives. And nothing is more hopeful than reading about heroines who begin again and, this time, emerge the victor. Their triumph is inevitably earned by the heroine’s own efforts, which are recognized (eventually) and encouraged by the hero.

    This pattern of recovery with the support of a hero who sees the strength of the heroine, has repeated itself across all the romance sub-genres awarded in the RITA Award, from historicals to contemporary romantic comedies to paranormals and even the recently revived category of mainstream fiction with romantic elements. It’s also a pattern that has existed since the awards first began in 1982.

    Take Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra, the 2017 RITA winner in the Contemporary Mid-Length category. It’s the story of a divorced woman recovering from an abusive marriage. She’s started her own business, a bakery/coffee shop on a beautifully described island in the Carolinas, and is doing all she can to provide stability and love to her son. She’s already on the road to recovery, already making strides, and making plans for the rest of her life. It’s not a sad or tragic book. It’s a joyous book set in a lovely place, one where you can practically feel the sun on your face and the ocean breezes. It’s about living again, for both the hero and heroine, not a deep dive into the trauma that led to it.

    This story of recovery even shows up in comedies. In It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, winner of 1994 Best Romance Award, the first chapter is set at the funeral of the heroine’s father, a ruthless businessman and owner of the Chicago Stars NFL team. Our heroine hated her father with good reason. He could never show her love or even affection and he certainly never believed in her. But our heroine didn’t fold. She ran away from home, created a new life and fabulous persona for herself, and shows up at his funeral in an outrageous outfit with her little dog and her friend, a prominent male model.

    Comedic chaos ensues. That scene is probably one of the funniest openings to a romance novel ever. The reader doesn’t find out until later in the book that the reason for the heroine’s estrangement from her father was that he never believed her when she reported being raped. (And, yes, her rapist gets a comeuppance in this book.) Again, the book is a comedy but, like all great comedies, it does not overlook the pain behind the laughter. The hero of the story is forced, over and over, to look beyond our heroine’s outrageousness to realize that she has for more strengths and smarts than anyone believes exists. And, of course, he comes to believe in her.

    Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran, the 2015 Historical Romance: Long winner, is a Regency-set historical with a heroine who falsifies references to gain entry into the home of a Duke. She needs to search the house to find incriminating letters that implicate the man trying to kill her, the plan being to blackmail him to back off. He’s already tried once to murder her, nearly succeeded, and she’s been exchanging identity after identity for several years in order to escape him. Obviously, she’s traumatized but working toward a solution. Meanwhile, the Duke is mired in a deep depression because not only is his wife dead from a drug overdose but she’d been cheating on him for years, with several men, and spilling political secrets to his rivals. The reason I came to love this hero, who enters the story in a scene in which he drunkenly throws a bottle at the heroine, is that he recognizes that while he’s been mired in self-pity and unable to leave the house, the heroine has been remaking her life, and taking steps to outflank her enemies. She is stronger than he is and he knows it.

    Sometimes the reader experiences the heroine’s trauma on the page, at least for a time. When the Stars Fall Down by Anne Stuart, which won the 1986 Single Title Romance RITA when it was named Banish Misfortune, tackles the everyday sexual harassment that women encounter at work (sadly the sexual harassment described in the book is all too depressingly current), and shows the emotional cost of this harassment. The heroine grew up as the child of alcoholics, and was raped by their drinking buddy, and has tried to commit suicide twice. In contrast to the others I’ve described, it is a dark book, but it begins as the heroine believes she’s found a way to function in the world. Problems ensue which cause her to fall apart but, of course, she rallies, and it’s not until she feels centered that she’s able to even think about a relationship with the hero. Like all these stories, the heroine finds love not because she’s been rescued but because she’s taken steps on her own to recover from past events.

    But the genre also explores other traumas aside from rape or physical assault. In The Texan’s Reward by Jodi Thomas, which won the Short Historical RITA in 2016, the heroine is disabled, left without the use of her legs due to a gunshot wound. She spends most of the novel in a wheelchair, wary of anyone pitying her, while she struggles to regain some of her physical mobility. The hero has known her for years and loves her, but her struggle is that she must feel complete again, if not physically, emotionally, first.

    In Christmas on Crimson Mountain by Michelle Major, the 2017 Contemporary Romance-Short winner, the heroine has recovered from cancer and is learning to start planning for a future that’s been on hold for some time. In Once and For All: An American Valor Novelby Cheryl Etchison, the RITA Winner for Best First Book in 2017, the heroine has gone through cancer treatment twice and seeks a way for a new beginning, desperately wanting to be seen as a whole person and not a patient.

    Then there’s the abused widow in Tender Texan, again by Jodi Thomas, the Short Historical winner in 1992. The heiress terrified about being forced into marriage in The Rake by Mary Jo Putney, the 1990 Regency Romance winner. (To say nothing of how well the book portrays the hero’s struggle with alcoholism.) The heroine of Tiffany Girl by Deeanna Gist, the 2016 Historical Romance: Long winner, who refuses to stay at home and work because, if she doesn’t leave, her father will always control her money. The young orphan heroine of The Lurid Lady Lockport by Kasey Michaels, the 1985 Regency Romance winner, who insists on being treated as equal despite having no real power, at least until she insists on it.

    Over and over, these stories feature heroines overcoming doubt, horrific traumas, and the bad hands that fate has dealt to them and, finally, winning.

    Not only winning but winning with style, and building a future in which the hero honors the person she’s fought to become.

    The next time someone calls romance “frilly fantasies,” smack one of these books into their hands and make them eat their words. What they’ll find are stories written mainly by women, writing for women, providing hope, inspiration, and many different roadmaps for triumph.

    The post The Great RITA Read: Trauma and Recovery in Romance Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 7:00 pm on 2018/01/11 Permalink
    Tags: barbara faith, brooke hastings, carolina dreaming, constance ravenlock, , , her every wish, , mary stewart, nine coaches waiting, , pages of hte mind, rendezvous at gramercy, , sun dancers, , , the rita awards, , , winner take all   

    The Great RITA Read: In The Beginning 

    It started in 1982 with four books: two historical romances and two contemporary romances.

    In the 35 years since then, the Golden Medallion Awards, given out each year by the Romance Writers of America for excellence in the romance, have evolved into the RITA Awards, and last year, had winners in 13 categories, some of which were not even on the radar in 1982, including paranormal romance, romantic suspense, erotic romance, and romance with religious or spiritual elements.

    But there is a direct line from the first winners to 2017 winners, which included some of the biggest names in romance, such as Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra, Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy, and Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan.

    The romance genre has always featured women, it’s always allowed the heroine to have her story told, and it’s always valued her independence. And, now it also features LGBTQ stories as well, providing a happy ending for all those who love.

    As part of new series here on B&N Reads called “The Great RITA Read,” I’ll be exploring the history of the romance genre by reading as many Rita-winning books as possible, leading up to the announcement of the 2018 Rita Award finalists in March.

    Why this series? Because I love romance and it’s time that the RITA Awards gained the prominence of the other major genre awards, such as the Edgar Awards, given out by the Mystery Writers of America, or the Nebula Awards, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Ameria.

    There’s little mainstream press coverage of the RITA Awards (or really, the romance genre as a whole) and when there is, it tends to be of the sneering or patronizing kind that characterized a recent article in the New York Times. Why does this happen? I’ll point out romance is the one genre largely written, published, and read by women, and the state of the world, and let you do the math.

    I’d rather talk about the stories.

    I had some preconceptions of what those early romances would be like. I thought perhaps the heroines would not be as three-dimensional or independent as modern-day romance protagonists; that perhaps they would seem tame compared to today’s heroines, and even that they would end up being damsels in distress. After all, even romance readers often say, “well, there were some older romances with heroines who are passive and need to be rescued.” I also thought perhaps writing styles might have changed and the older books would read as stilted or less interesting.

    Um, no.

    As I read the three of the first four Golden Medallion Award-winning books, Day Beyond Destiny by Anna James, Rendezvous at Gramercy by Constance Ravenlock, the two historical winners, and Winner Take All by Brooke Hastings, the contemporary winner, I had a collection of characters who would not be out of place in a current romance. (I could not obtain a copy of the fourth winner, Sun Dancers by Barbara Faith, alas.)

    Among these heroines were a diplomat’s daughter turned smuggler, an abused housewife, a mother, a painter who dared fall in love with a man who valued her, and a business owner determined to save her company, despite the machinations of a corporate raider. (Yes, dear readers, millionaire heroes go back to 1982 and beyond. Millionaire/billionaire romances are not new.)

    I did find one interesting element these three books had in common: they were all heroine-centered, meaning if the men had a point of view at all, it was brief, and they didn’t have a strong emotional arc.

    In Rendezvous at Gramercy, where the heroine is rescued from a shipwreck off the French coast and taken in by down-on-their-luck nobility who are smuggling in food and other necessities for the local townspeople, the style is very much in the vein of Mary Stewart’s gothics, such as the classic (and still wonderful) Nine Coaches Waiting. The reader does not get to know the hero, though he does eventually put aside his cynicism due to the heroine’s noble acts.

    Day Beyond Destiny was fascinating in several ways. One, the heroine is a clearly abused (married to a rapist husband) who finds love and tenderness with a Greek native while on vacation in Greece. Yes, she cheats on her husband, which I’ve been told “should not be done” in modern romance, though I’m reasonably certain it could be done and done well in a modern romance. (And feel free to comment with romances you love that have this element.)

    But the most fascinating element is this book is a three-generational romance, following up with the daughter and granddaughter, and, thus, the original hero actually dies later in the story. I know! Blasphemy in a romance today. Even worse, the second heroine’s story ends in tragedy, and the granddaughter barely has a romance at all but has mainly a coming of age story.

    Clearly, readers (and writers) have cemented certain “rules” since 1982 that would make Day Beyond Destiny a controversial romance today. But it’s also a terrific book and, by the end of the first story, I wanted to move to this Greek Island, or at least vacation there. The story sweeps a reader away to a new and fascinating world, which is something we still want today.

    Next up in this series: a look at Nora Roberts’ first Golden Medallion/RITA Winners: This Magic Moment and The Heart’s Victory, from 1982 and 1983.

    Yes, Nora Roberts has been writing that long—and writing well that long.

    The post The Great RITA Read: In The Beginning appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
c
compose new post
j
next post/next comment
k
previous post/previous comment
r
reply
e
edit
o
show/hide comments
t
go to top
l
go to login
h
show/hide help
esc
cancel