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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lord of Scoundrels, The Male Perspective


Wouldn’t it be great if there were more men who admitted they read romance novels? And wouldn’t it be even better if they reviewed romance in general? If only there were more blogs or review sites where men reviewed romance! Luckily for us, I may just have your answer. Last fall, my friend Ryan I were talking about books. Ryan loves to read as I do and he knows of my love for romance books in general. I told him of All About Romance’s Top 100 Romances of All Time poll. He was really interesting in how this poll came about and which books were considered the best of the best in romance. He was especially interested in the number one book, Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. He wanted to read Lord of Scoundrels right the and there. I was practically jumping up and down because to have a man read such a wonderful novel was something I have wanted for such a very long time. I even went one step further and asked Ryan if he would review Lord of Scoundrels, and he said yes!


It took some time for Ryan to read Lord of Scoundrels and write down his thoughts because Ryan was transplanted from New York City to Ottawa, Kansas where he is now a Professor teaching Speech Communication, as well as getting his Masters in Speech Communication Rhetoric:


Lord of Scoundrels--as reviewed by Ryan Louis (newcomer to the Romance world, for sure)

Back in college I wrote a speech entitled "Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover." In it, I strike down the myth that romance novels are flippant reads. In fact, I argue that their quality of substance rivals that of any other style of fiction. My arguments were three-fold: romance novels are good, healthy forms of escape, they often present provocative arguments to the readers (issues of gender and feminine empowerment, particularly) and third, they should be taught in schools. My premise: kids today would much prefer learning parts of speech from a romance novel than from other, boring examples. So, for instance, teach adjectives as "Her eyes were wide and black and achingly alive”—the underlined words being wonderful examples of descriptive imagery. To learn an imperative statement, one need only turn to this phrase: "If you don't stop that right now, I will have to throw you to the ground and ravish you." It would go on like this until the entire lesson is fraught with anxieties. As kids who've only just discovered their hormonal antipodes, these books would speak to an animal instinct just craving release.


Certainly more, in any case, than your typical example: “Nouns: A boring stick fell from a stupid tree.”

Obviously romance novels are not for everyone...and I certainly wouldn't recommend teaching whole romance novels to children. Much of the literature would fail any appropriateness litmus test. My point in the venture was to start a dialogue about romance novels—in an academic sense. I used one book at length to fix my point: Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance; edited by romance provocateur, Jayne Ann Krentz. The book’s still in print, if you’re interested.

 

Thus, my interest in romance is largely scholarly. At one point during my college career I read Lisa Kleypas’ stunningly dirty book Suddenly You and that, as they say, was that. I understood that sex could be had in a raspberry field but would be likely never to partake.

 

Until this year, I hadn’t really considered reading another. After all, being a gay man, there isn’t much directly appealing to me about ‘ladies that doth protest too much.’ When All About Romance held their top 100 romances of all time poll for readers, however, I immediately became enamored with curiosity. This book ranked higher than Austen and Bronte, for cry-eye! Growing up as a lit-lover, I seriously took up arms in defense of the Canon when I read the top entry. But, then again, I have a wild side. I thought to myself “let’s throw caution to the wind and read the damn thing!”

 

Enter Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels.

 

As an aside, I’ll need to remind myself to ask katiebabs where certain stock phrases originate. Have “member” and “rod” always been the delightful euphemisms I’ve come to cherish? Is there always a “no no no” before the eventual “yes?”

 

The story, if retold in simple sentences, is not exactly complex. The novel creates a series of events for the two central characters (Jess and Lord Dain) to change just enough for their love & lust to become complementary rather than oppositional. Not a simple challenge considering they are, in essence, two ends of the same stick (is “stick” another good euphemism for a peter?). The dark, debauching world of Lord Dain counteracts the servile and spinsterly world of Jessica Trent.

 

Slowly. Surely. We head closer and closer to our inevitable end: marriage, pregnancy. The journey, though, is the appealing part. And, from my research into the world of romance novels, the journey is everything to a loyal romance reader. How will it happen? How will Lord Dain be tamed? How will Jessica understand that her longing is legitimate? How can Jessica quell her feelings of shame? And can Lord Dain, please, feel a little more shame? Please?

 

The novel takes us through the streets of Paris, through the countryside of London, through the geography of a woman’s anatomy. Seriously, I learned a lot—not because I’m completely clueless as a gay man, but because a woman writing about a woman allows me to attach meanings that I would rarely impart myself to a gender I rarely consider sexually. Chase attaches such vivid metaphors and adjectives to Jessica’s many (did I say “many?” I meant MANY) orgasms. I really did stir—something about complete and uninhibited passion that bridges worlds together. Here hetero met homo in a blitzkrieg of emotional rampage.

 

I wonder if the world could be bridged by romance novels. Peace, after all, starts with a little bit of love. Or, in this case, the right finger in the right orifice.

 

Around the end of the novel, though, I was surprised by the bastard-son subplot. Surprise quickly gave to real awe. The ethics debate hit me hard—especially after having been forced into an inordinate amount of political ethics debates. Loretta Chase took me away from the droll world of contemporary politics by a simple story about doing what is right. It seemed refreshing. It also seemed somehow vindicating.

 

If you’re adding up positives and negatives for my review, don’t bother. I’m fairly split. But, in the end, I stand by my belief that romance writing and, by extension, romance reading is a vastly important form of expression. I used to work at Borders, I also have a friend whose mother writes romance novels, so I’ve seen my fair share of romance readers justifying their hobby to non-believers—imploring that they understand it’s more than just the sex. Ladies and gentleman, as a former nonbeliever, I’ll add my voice to the debate: sure it’s about the sex. But it’s also about so much more.

 

There’s a little bit of power when you take both sides.


This is where Kate picks Ryan’s brain:
Kate: Who did you sympathize more with, Dain or Jessica?

Ryan: Well, as much a hedonist as I TRY to be in my regular life, I feel I'm more pragmatic than Dain. So I wouldn't say I'm sympathetic to him. I think I'm tame with a wild side, rather than wild with a tame side. Which, if you're keeping track, puts me much more on the side of Jess.

Kate: What was your favorite scene in the book? Mine was when Jessica shoots Dain and leaves him for dead since he was such a bastard to her.

Ryan: I'm partial to the big gala scene. It was almost a Cinderella-in-reverse. The clock strikes 12 and IN marches our protagonist. Instead of turning back into a beast at midnight, he becomes a prince--the witching hour, after all. He sees Jess in the crowd and must longingly wait the rest of the evening to get her alone. Romantic...they dance. Then, of course, they go to the garden where their romance first becomes illicit.

Kate: If only she would have shot him in the balls! But then if she did, no hot sex would happen between the two. Which leads me to my next question:

Did you enjoy reading the sex scenes? Did you feel there were enough or not not enough? Did they get you hot under the collar?

Ryan: This is a loaded question! Hmmm. Sex is sex, I suppose. It's hard not to read about a fiery pit of passion and remain unaffected. Certainly Chase teeters masterfully between what constitutes eroticism and romanticism. She plays up the foreplay and requires more of her performers--more emotion. If this were some random Anne Rice erotique, it would be "this hand goes there and this stiffness goes inside there." I think there's a battleground of the between that would appeal more to me...something a little more animalistic than Chase, but less sexually didactic than Rice. Sure there are myriad scenes of sweaty panting and vocalized titillation, but if I were writing I would evoke the scenery more--and use it more to my advantage.

Kate: Would you definitely be open to reading other historical romances such as this?

Ryan: Not sure--I think I get lost in the recreation. This book, for me, occasionally became distracting because of the world it invented: castles and costumes. I'm sure Chase did her research, but I'm interested more in the contemporary. I tried reading a Blaze book once w/a friend on a road trip. Somewhere in the night of New Mexico we put the book down. We'd decided we needed to stare at the desert a little while before continuing. Holy crap was it explicit.

Kate: The covers of books seem so important for some readers. What did you think of the cover? When you first saw the cover, what was your opinion about what you were going to read?

**I gave Ryan the old Avon cover where the couple are in a passionate embrace and Dain is half naked :D**

Ryan: I'll be honest, Dain is a little too attractive on the cover. The book mentions his funny-shaped face and strange mannerisms. The cover tells me nothing of "lords" or "scoundrels." Instead, I see a buxom beauty with her handsome prince. I think I would prefer to see a cover more practical: him hovering coyly in a doorway while she stands next to a dining table, her leg propped upon it--a come-hither look with a Mrs. Robinson feel.

Kate: Why do you think men are so dead set against reading romance? Since men seem to have sex on their brain, wouldn't romance books be perfect for them?

Ryan: Men read and watch porn. I think genre Romance doesn't quite get to the point fast enough. Typical porn plot: "yes." Typical Romance plot: "no. I said no. No. Maybe? Okay. YES!"

The traditional man, for whatever appalling reason, dispenses with foreplay as often as possible. The thing about a good romance novel, I've come to understand, is that the banter, the flirtation, the sizing up, the parting ways, the dancing, the kissing and the frought embarrassment adds up to something more holistic than just sex. As I said before, the journey is the purpose. It's about the quintessential pairing: a love, a romance and, of course, the greatest sex that can come from it.

Kate: Have I asked enough? Anything else I should ask or bring up?

Ryan: One thing I generally forget is that perspective enhances most things in life. Although I don't always appreciate genre literature (sci-fi, true crime, mystery, romance), there are certainly HUGE advantages to most of it. I should, more often than I do, descend from my perch of pretension in order to realize the great humanistic stuff waiting for me. Not to mention I'd be buying books for $5.99 instead of $25. Yikes, that's enough to make me a permanent convert!

I have some even better news! Ryan expressed even more interest in reading more romance novels and perhaps write even more reviews to be posted monthly or bi-monthly. Would this be something you would all enjoy reading? I for one would love it! And since Ryan will be coming back to my neighborhood for a visit, I will be handing him some books. Any book you can recommend that you would like Ryan to read and review?


Katiebabs

20 comments:

Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

Wonderful! Thanks so much, katiebabs and Ryan!

How about Suzanne Brockmann? You could start with The Unsung Hero, or just dive right in with All Through the Night.

Christine said...

Fantastic review and discussion! I totally appreciate a guys perspective on a romance novel and I think Ryan was superbly objective.

Since Ryan already expressed an interest, I think you should pass a good contemporary romance to him for his next read and review. Sarah's suggestion of Suzanne Brockmann sounds perfect.

Kara said...

I think it would be great to have him post more reviews - I'm with you - more men need to read romance novels!!

Ana said...

What an amazing post - thanks for your input Ryan. Fascinating stuff.

And hell yes. Let's get him to read more - perhaps a contemporary next? Or a pananormal?

And one question for Ryan - you mention that LoS (which is my own favorite romance novel) beats Jane Austen in the AAR poll. Have you read Jane Austen's books? If so , how do you think it compares to LoS? If not, ignore me. *g*

: )

azteclady said...

Also Suzanne Brockmann's Heartthrob, Nora Roberts' Blue Smoke and Linda Howard's Mr Perfect.

And even though they are both historicals, they are a) set in the US, and b) much more familiar than the castles and the titles, so I suggest Maggie Osborne's Silver Lining, and LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory.

Carolyn Jean said...

Wow, this was so smart and fun to read. Thanks KB and a special thanks to you, Ryan!! You make so many great observations. I especially loved this little tidbit of retelling:

"The novel creates a series of events for the two central characters (Jess and Lord Dain) to change just enough for their love & lust to become complementary rather than oppositional."

How did you do that? Oh, I am SO glad I read LoS so that I could fully enjoy this. I sure do hope you come back, mister.

Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

I totally second Morning Glory. Wonderful idea.

MK/Kati said...

Wow! Welcome Ryan. And Kate, thanks for bringing us a wonderful and open guy's perspective.

I like the idea of a Brockmann novel, but I'd also be interested to see what Ryan thought of Lisa K.'s contemps...Or a Nora because I think Nora writes guy speak so well.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, Ryan and Kate, thanks for a terrific interview!

Tracy said...

Hey Ryan! Wonderful review. Very refreshing to have a man's pov. I would love to read more of your reviews.

I think Kleypas's contemps are a great idea MK! Maybe a comptemp paranormal? Possibly a Nalini Singh. Ok, that's not really contemp since it's set in the 2080's but close enough! :)

What about m/m romance? Has he read much? What are his views on that?

Amy C said...

That was very interesting to read.

I finally talked my husband into read one of my romances. He browsed and with a few suggestions from me settled with Wicked Ties. He's not a big reader, but he started it. Only made it to the second chapter so far.

I think, for my husband anyway, that hinders men from really enjoying a romance is the heroines point of view of the man. Men don't want to read about rippling muscles and extremely large penises :) (I do!) Alot of the plot lines would hold their interest, but I think it's the female POV that would throw them off.

I'm happy he is finally willing to give one of my books a try and a good steamy one no less...woohoo!!

BTW, I thought Lord of Scoundrels was a fantastic book! I only just read it this week :).

orannia said...

That was a fantastic review! Thank you katiebabs & Ryan! And now I am off to hunt down a copy of LOS!

There have been some great contemporary romance suggestions already. Hmmm, what about Nora Roberts' Sea Swept?

Kristie (J) said...

Great review and chat. I think we women would be much better served if more men suck it up and read romance *g*. If they could 'get' that it's not just the act itself but the emotions beyond the act. Thanks Ryan for giving us your persective of romance.
And I've always wanted to see a guy's perspective of the In Death books. It's still Nora - but Nora with edge and more suspense. I tried to interest both my husband and sons with trying her - but it was a no go.
And I did get quite a kick out of this answer
"Men read and watch porn. I think genre Romance doesn't quite get to the point fast enough. Typical porn plot: "yes." Typical Romance plot: "no. I said no. No. Maybe? Okay. YES!"

Emily said...

Someone (I should remember--I think it was in a movie) once said that men are turned on with their eyes and women with their brains. Maybe that's why women read romance novels and read literotica while men look at porn.

Marisa O'Neill said...

Ryan - thank you for such a thoughtful and well written review. I am fascinated by your perspective and you gave me a whole new way to look at LOS. Well Done.

I would definitely read your next review. Kate- what about an M/M romance review? Yes? Or as Sarah suggested, I would love to hear Ryan's thoughts on S.B.'s All Through the Night. He also might enjoy the BDB series.

Katiebabs said...

I am so glad everyone liked Ryan's review! I am hoping for him to read multiple romance genres and perhaps some M/M, and some of us know which M/M I am thinking of :D
Hopefully Ryan will stop by and comment soon :D

Stacy~ said...

Ryan thank you for that enlightening commentary. This was no Beavis & Butthead review, for which I'm rather grateful, instead it was very candid and thought-provoking, and damn funny! I would love to have you & Kate review together again.

I agree on Brockmann, and Unsung Hero is a good place to start. I loved All Through the Night, but I think it's better if you have all the backstory to it. Since Ryan mentioned contemps, I would how he'd feel about Kleypas' Sugar Daddy, or a Lori Foster book, something without all the bells and whistles (aka paranormals).

Well whatever he chooses, I can't wait for the next installment *g*

nath said...

Great review and really interesting to read :P

Ryan said...

So I like the notion of a contemporary/futuristic paranormal--as long as it's genre--something steamy. And please, no blood/guts. I may not blink at the occasional mentioning of "rosebuds" but I'll lose it if there's rosebuds AND rose-blood.

Thanks all for reading--glad to be welcomed into the community with open arms (wow, this really is a community. I love it!). Also, a good friend of mine is doing a documentary trying to reconcile the worlds of pornography and feminism (from a male's perspective--how can a man like pornography and still consider himself a feminist? is the central question he poses). He's interested in the romance perspective. Can anyone think of a possibile romance novel to read...and then an on-camera interview with the author? He lives in LA.

Leanna Renee Hieber said...

Thanks Ryan for taking the time to share these wonderful thoughts with us! I'd love it if you'd share more!!

Brie said...

Wonderful idea and excecution, Katie. I wonder a lot about what men think of romances and what they would really think if they actually read them. You have brought that perspective to me finally. Thank you, Ryan, for the great review! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts in the months to come.

And if I had to rec. something for Ryan to read, it would be one of my personal favorites, Flowers from the Storm.