It’s the start of a new year, and it got me and a couple of my Twitter friends thinking about what we’d like to read in 2018. Let me introduce The Book Queen (TBQ) who is a well-established book reviewer and blogger and Jen, an avid reader and fantastic reviewer who posts her reviews on The Book Queen’s Book Palace. Here we go…
KT: Okay, so I think it’s fair to say that 2017 has been a bit of a shit-storm. Politics has divided people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Weinstein story broke and women everywhere looked at each other and rolled their eyes, because we’ve always known that this is what life is like being a woman, right? But a really positive outcome was the #metoo hashtag on Twitter that finally gave millions of people a voice.
Jen: After reading just the first sentence, I have to say, “A bit” is doing a lot of work. All the work. So much work. Lol. I’ll stop being a smart ass now. I agree that social media has changed the way we’ve heard from all sorts of marginalized voices, and I’m grateful for that.
KT: I’m British – I say “a bit” a lot. We’re reserved like that. Lol!
So, reading has always been an escape from reality, but in 2017, more than ever, that was the case for me. However, along with reading more, I’m trying to read more selectively. I love reading romance, but I think we all know that it has its issues. The main ones I’m taking away from this past year is that people of colour (POC) aren’t represented enough in this genre, authors of colour (AOC) aren’t supported enough, and misogyny is still alive and thriving. This got me thinking about what I want to read in 2018.
Jen: I read a lot of non-romance, too. And halfway through the year, I decided to just stop reading all literary fiction by allocishet white men. I think I’m going to need to keep that up in 2018. It’s amazing how toxic I find those novels.
KT: ‘Literary fiction by allocishet white men’ – you should see my face right now! That is the OPPOSITE of what I want on my wish list.
I want more dominant heroines of any colour. I’m not talking as extreme as Kristen Ashley’s The Honey series, although I did enjoy that, but women who direct the bed action instead of following the man. I want women giving directions like “get on your knees and…”, or “hold still while I tie you up”, or “did I say you could do that?” I have more filthy ideas! Lol!
TBQ: You are speaking my catnip language. My kingdom for more dominant, and especially sexually confident and dominant heroines! There’s just not nearly enough in the genre. I enjoy watching a character, heroine or otherwise, come into their confidence, particularly when it comes to their sexuality. But I also want to see more stories where they’re already *there*, know what they want, and give zero fucks about demanding it. CONSENSUALLY, of course!
KT: Consent is ALWAYS sexy.
I remember a tweet from a female reader a while ago who said, “I don’t want to read extreme kink. I just want to read what I like in bed.” And I totally understand what she wants. Sexually dominant heroines seem to generally appear in erotic romance and they’re often in the role of a dominatrix. What I’m looking for is a strong female main character (MC) who takes that dominant streak into the bedroom, without the leather, whips and chains. It doesn’t need to be erotica, although I won’t pass that up, I want a contemporary romance that shows a loving couple where the man is submissive in bed sometimes, but equal in the relationship. I think it’s more realistic to switch it up, sometimes he’ll lead too if she lets him 😉
Jen: Agreed. Just like it doesn’t have to be virgin or whore, or these extreme dichotomies, it doesn’t have to be dominant or submissive. I’m glad that exists in stories and for people to read, but I am interested in strong, equal women that are clear about what they want, and their partners are responsive to it. It doesn’t have to be extreme.
KT: I think this sexual confidence could be linked to age, giving less fucks and knowing what you like after failures in previous relationships. So, along with dominant heroines I want to read older MCs. The gender of MCs is not important here. I just want them older – in their 40s ideally. I want MCs who have changed as they and their relationships have aged. Women want different things in their 40s than they did in their 20s. Right? Or maybe it’s just me who feels a little more like I want to read about a man willing to get on his knees, rather than demanding the woman gets on hers?
Jen: That last sentence. Forever and ever.
TBQ: *makes incoherent sound* Yes.
KT: Lol! I’m totally over cold, asshole alphas as well. I’ve read some amazing cinnamon-roll heroes in 2017 (Kate Clayborn’s ‘Beginner’s Luck’ stands out). I still like an alpha male but just stop being a twat! I thought Kristen Ashley had a return to form with ‘The Hookup’, and there wasn’t an asshole in sight. I want cinnamon roll heroes – MCs who love to care for their lovers, MCs who are gentle and cuddly as well as hot and sexy. Olivia Dade collated a list of books with cinnamon roll heroes. She also coined the phrase, which works for me. We want more, please!
Jen: I’m pretty sure I have a higher alphahole tolerance than others, because I’m mostly in it for the heroines. I can pretty much read whatever as long as she’s his match. But I definitely NEVER WANT TO READ ABOUT ANOTHER BILLIONAIRE. EVER.
KT: I hear you, sister! I haven’t read a billionaire story all year.
Jen: I want books that expand readers’ understanding of social justice issues. This is important to me, and I’ve talked about it before on Twitter. Sometimes, the push back I get is that “I just want romance to be fantasy.” Honestly, this just seems like such a shitty cop out to me. We all know that romance has dramatically changed the way it deals with consent, sex positivity, and body issues. Not all books do it well, but the goal posts are in a different place than they were 10 or 20 years ago. But my guess is that 20 years ago, people complained about changes being made. Remember when it was a big deal to have characters talk about protection and test results before jumping into bed together? I remember some readers complained about that, “But it ruins the mood!” But that has changed. Now it’s weird and upsetting when an author skips that safe sex conversation. And it’s a model for how people can have those conversations with their real life partners. That stuff matters!
KT: Great point. It feels weird to me now if the MCs don’t use a condom or have a safe sex talk beforehand. In fact, I start to get anxious!
Jen: So why is it so hard to imagine that every book about a cop would mention de-escalation training or issues around race and policing? Think about what a difference that could make in the minds of readers. We know that reading fiction makes people more empathetic. I wish more authors were in tune to the differences they could make in the world.
And I don’t think that it has to be a major plot point. I was just reading ‘Illegal Contact’ by Santino Hassell. The main character that’s a football player mentions how he has to grapple with the ways football will damage his body and brain. He mentions that there is racial injustice in endorsements, etc. It’s not heavy-handed! I want more books like that. I’m stealing a line from an upcoming review of mine that doesn’t come out until mid-January: I can’t help but wonder if the books, movies, and television shows that refuse to talk about social justice have created millions of people who refuse to do the same.
KT: I think there’s a fine balance to be achieved because reading romance is an escape for some readers, BUT that doesn’t mean that authors can’t introduce more social issues. Like you say, Jen, some authors do it with a light hand already and, like the safe sex issue 20 years ago, I believe others will follow. In another few years, hopefully, it will seem just as normal as the hero rolling on a condom.
Jen: I was really pissy at the end of the year when I started counting statistics for “Best of” lists from USA Today Happy Ever After blog. The 6 columnists recommended 93 books by 82 different authors, and as far as I can tell, there were only 5 authors of color on the whole list (and by the way, 3 of those were for YA books that aren’t romances). To put that in perspective there were 4 male authors on the list. There were almost more MALE authors on the list than female authors of color! This is a list of best romances, and there are more men on your lists? And Santino Hassell was not one of those men? There were only 3 queer books, and only one was by an #OwnVoices author. Those stats are dismal and infuriating, and for a publication calling itself USA TODAY, a fucking embarrassment. I want white readers to stop reading books only by white authors. I want them to recognize that those worlds create a harmful and false narrative about the world. I want READERS to do better. And I for the life of me cannot fucking figure out how to make that happen.
KT: My horizons have been broadened immensely by Twitter, but the percentage of readers on there must be so small. Main media outlets need to pick it up. Maybe submit some ideas to them?
Jen: I don’t want USA Today to hire me. They don’t need another white lady like me, no matter how great I am (lol, JK), they need to hire multiple women of color to be columnists for them. I mean, obviously, I want a wider readership because I like my work and have an ego. But working for USA Today I’m interested in, and it’s not the answer. The greatest thing about working for someone else is that I actually have NO IDEA how many people read my reviews. Sometimes TBQ will send me a little note that says, “Oh, 200 people read that!” and that sounds like a lot to me. But I have no idea and that works for me just fine.
TBQ: LOL! Honestly it has no real relevance outside of “this post did great, this one didn’t get many views”; I have no idea what other sites see for page view numbers, and frankly I’m okay with not comparing myself to them — or at least trying not to! But I totally get your point. Just wanted to explain the numbers things a bit. 🙂
Jen: I like the comparing our numbers to ourselves. Like we’re competing against our own best time, or whatever the appropriate sports metaphor would be.
One thing I would love to see more of is curvy/fat characters — and not just limited to heroines! — across the board. BODY POSITIVE stories, not some fatphobic, body-shaming bullshit. But you know what I really want? A good romantic suspense with a plus-size heroine; maybe she and the hero are FBI or CIA or something similar. Because if a skinny heroine can say “Oh no, I’m so out of shape, I eat doughnuts every day and never so much as take a quick jog!” and still manage to run from the bad guys A “FAT” WOMAN CAN TOO. So don’t go giving me that shit as a reason why only skinny heroines belong in romantic suspense.
When I did the post for curvy heroines earlier in the year, I had a ton of suggestions from readers . . . and literally, zero romantic suspense with curvy heroines. So yeah, that’s what I want.
KT: Give me some cellulite, stretch marks and less than perky bits while fighting crime!! I would totally read that.
Jen: I actually think this one is related to yours, TBQ. Which is I wish that everyone wasn’t perfectly beautiful and I especially wish there were non-gorgeous men. I feel like every guy is just the most handsome man ever, and I would love to read a book with just like a regular looking guy.
TBQ: Yes! Give the “average” guy a romance, too! I don’t need all the heroes to be supermodels. Seriously, I rarely even pay attention to the physical descriptions, never really imagine a specific actor or whatever, so just give me the normal guy’s story, too, authors!
KT: Yep. This may be going off on a bit of a tangent, but I’m REALLY over the book covers that just show a male torso. There have been some great covers recently that have caught my eye specifically because they don’t have a naked male torso on them. Shelly Ellis’ new series ‘Maclaine Girls’ really stands out as a brilliant example, alongside Elyse Springer’s ‘Seasons of Love’ series. A million male torsos have long since merged into one in my mind. Publishers need to know, that more often than not, I scroll past them now.
TBQ: This is more trope related than anything else but I want more rivals-to-lovers romances. All gender pairings. Give me rival chefs or bakers or, I don’t know, mechanics or something. ANYTHING. This brought to you by my reading of Hassell’s ‘Down by Contact’ which has this trope (football players) and it reminded me how much I adore it. It’s out there, of course, but I just want mooooooore.
Jen: Having just read and loved ‘The Hating Game’, I can only concur. Enemies to lovers is SO GREAT and I would read it all day long.
TBQ: *happy noise* That book . . . Okay, don’t get off track again, TBQ. Stop!
KT: ‘The Hating Game’ is a ridiculously brilliant example of my favourite trope and Hassell does a fantastic job of it in ‘Illegal Contact’. I’m with you 100%. Give me more.
Jen: I’m trying to think about what other tropes I am thirsty for. Maybe bodyguards? I love a good bodyguard romance. I would LOVE a bodyguard romance with a female bodyguard and a nerdy little dude. He is in possession of some coding thing and a mega-corporation wants to kill him. She has to protect him, but he finds hidden reserves of strengths, and together they bring down the bad guys.
Okay, other things I want in no particular order: books with female athletes rather than male athletes; people with cats as pets instead of dogs; MCs with jobs other than CEOs, chefs, or tattoo artists; more books with loving parental figures and happy families; more interracial or multi-ethnic families and partnerships; and finally, more sex in elevators and libraries so I can write more posts about them. But I think that’s it.
KT: You can never have too much sex in elevators and libraries – lol!
Okay, so to sum up… reading back over what we’ve talked about, the main thing that jumps out at me, is that we want to read books that are in a sense more realistic. We don’t necessarily want to read about people who look perfect, because we don’t and we’re more than okay with that. Our world is far from ideal, so we want people to write about that, and show us that love can and will prevail despite it. A lot of what we want already exists. We just want more of it, please. More diversity, more sexually confident heroines, and less ignoring the shit that happens, the struggles that people face and the social injustices in our world. This can be done without depressing the hell out of readers. We still want the romance to be the central story, we just want the world around those MCs to reflect what’s going on in our own.
2017 was a great reading year. Here’s hoping or wishing that 2018 is even better.
Let us know what you’d like to read in 2018.
Whatever you choose – happy reading!