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Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels Paperback – April 14, 2009
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"Funny, irreverent, and insightful, this guide zeros in on the joys and woes of the romance genre... delivering both in delightful, readable style." -- Nora Roberts, New York Times bestselling author
"A high-octane, hilarious and revelatory look at the romance genre...It's too much fun to be missed!" -- Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author
"Sarah and Candy point out all that's ridiculous and annoying in the genre, while showcasing all that's good and valuable, with wit, style, intelligence, and snark." -- Jennifer Crusie, New York Times bestselling author of Welcome to Temptation and Crazy for You
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Published in 2009, BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS is already dated because it was published before FIFTY SHADES OF GREY made erotica mainstream (for better or for worse) and before new adult titles because The Next Big Thing (again, for better or for worse). In a way, this makes for an interesting retrospective, because many of these ladies' predictions were true: that erotica would become less taboo, and that LGBT+ romances, and the increasing demand for them, would create a drive for more titles, more scenarios, and more representation (which it did, although there is still room for improvement, particularly with F/F, asexual, and transgender representation).
BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS resonated with me on multiple levels because most people - especially women - who read romance have had to deal with people who feel the desperate need to take the piss out of their enjoyment. I've had people come up to me, and tell me that they thought romance novels are stupid. One man saw a vintage bodice-ripper in my hands at a thrift store and bragged about how dumb he thought they were, and their only redeeming value was in reselling autographed first editions for big bucks at swap meets. I have people who continually comment on my book reviews and say, "Why are you reading this? This sounds so stupid. I would never read this." Which... good for you, I guess? I'm not sure what these people's goals are in bragging about their disdain of romance. What do they want? A shiny gold star that says, "I made someone else's day slightly sh*ttier while touting my own intellectual superiority?"
There's a lot of jerks on the internet, so this isn't entirely a romance-exclusive thing, but the reason romance readers are so tired of hearing about how dumb romance novels are is because it's the only novel that's written mostly by women, mostly for women, and given the inherent sexism that still plagues many institutions of society (yes, including "Western" society), it seems a little fishy that romance receives criticisms ("the plots are all the same", "there's a lot of rape", "the characters are so bland", "the covers are stupid", "it promotes unhealthy relationship standards") that are supposed to be unique to romance and yet could just as easily be swapped out for criticisms of mystery, science-fiction, action-adventure, and horror novels. The only difference? Those latter genres aren't being exclusively marketed to and written by women. So yeah, it seems just a little sketch.
What makes romance criticism even more aggravating is that many of the critics are people (often men, but not always) who picked up a bodice-ripper once, in the 70s, or flipped through Twilight "once, to see what all the fuss was about" and are using that as their yardstick to judge all romance ever, thereby contributing to the stereotype that all romances are created equal and are therefore interchangeable. Even in historical fiction there's a lot of variance, and bodice-rippers are in no way representative of the genre as a whole: they have branched out considerably from their clothing-shredding roots since the debut of THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER.
I can see the anti-feminists side-eying this book, and no, even though the bulk of this book is written with the feminist, forward-thinking woman in mind, it's not all "waaaah, someone told me the book I was reading was dumb." BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS offers a heavily satirical look at the books we all love to read best, pointing out the flaws, but tenderly; they manage to poke fun at romance novels while at the same time, making this humor a celebration of the wackiness of the books, as well as an appreciation of what they offer for women, be it escape or even empowerment.
The last part of the book is written "choose your own adventure" style and really serves to highlight how unhealthy and ridiculous some of the tropes in romance novels would be in real life, and yet somehow makes them hilarious and endearing. It's followed by a "mad libs" style game that does the same thing with purple prose. Again, this never feels mean-spirited. Not like those "why are you reading this?" type comments that seem to suggest that only silly women-folk with their simpering, inferior brains would pick up something to read that was so demeaning. No, this is fine parody, and feels more like a heavy wink than a backhanded slap.
I would love to see the Smart Bitches write a follow-up to this book, since romance has changed so much in the eight years since this was published, and I'd love to see their reviews of the POC rep books that are slowly trickling into the market in greater numbers, as well as college romance, mainstream erotica publications, and that mutated black sheep in the romance family... monsterotica, "Tinglers," and dinoporn. I found myself adding so many books to my to-read list while paging through BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS, even some of the more WTF Old Skool titles (I love me some Old Skool titles, the more the covers look like pastel soft-core porn, the better).
There was only one glaring mistake that occurred on page 112 of the Kindle edition, and that was when the authors said that Anne Stuart's MOONRISE had a hero who was a cult reader. She's actually confusing MOONRISE (which has a CIA hero) with RITUAL SINS. I double-checked to make sure, but I'm very familiar with RITUAL SIN's premise, because my friend Heather Crews keeps trying to persuade me to read it because it's right up my dark and twisted Old Skool alley.
If you love romance novels at all, you should read this book. It's an ode to the genre, as well as a parody, and achieves a nice balance between the two. If you're not a fan of romance, you might not enjoy this quite as much because the book is written for an audience that is familiar with most big-name romance authors and romance cliches and romance tropes. You might still have a laugh or two (or three, or four), but I think some of the jokes and references might go over your head.
P.S. These authors really love Laura Kinsale. ;-)
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars
They get down to business in every possible way. It is an hilarious overlook, analysis, and commentary on the media and the industry Forthright and funny, funny, funny. Thoughtful and a rush and a blush.
These ladies had fun with it.
And as long as you don't mind an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek look at the genre as a whole and how it has evolved over time, you will come out wiser for it and also highly amused along the way.
But don't read it in public. I tried to check out a friend's copy while we went walking. I nearly fell over laughing and probably shocked the people around me. Multiple times. Enjoy this one in a chair so you might at least have a shorter distance to the floor as you gasp for breath.
Yeah, it really is that fun. (But do realize, they swear, they warn you in advance but this isn't a prestigious peer-review. It's a down-and-dirty, in the mud, frank discussion about the romance genre. Still informative, but not gentle or kind about it.) Get it. It's amusing.
Whether you're a writer who wants to understand more about the genre, a reader who wants to know how to defend your reading choices against derisive family members, or just looking for an entertaining read, Beyond Heaving Bosoms is drop-dead perfect. It'll also help you find more books and authors who write the particular kind of romance novels you enjoy, and it'll teach you a ton of fascinating facts about the history and present of romance novels.
There's enough solid, smart information in this to be an academic piece--yet it's written with such a hilarious sense of wit and irony that you'll never once find yourself drowsing or getting bored. It pokes good-natured fun at our chosen reading material while also taking unabashed enjoyment in it. I can't imagine a better guide to the genre, whether you're a reader or a writer!