Monday, September 21, 2009

Sarah Wendell

Sarah Wendell is also known as Smart Bitch Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The site specializes in reviewing romance novels, examining the history and future of the genre, and bemoaning the enormous prevalence of bodacious pectorals adorning male cover models.

She is co-author (with Candy Tan) of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, published in April 2009 by Touchstone Fireside.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading cravings right now are for shorter-length, character-driven romance narratives with strong, autonomous protagonists and emotion-based tension in a contemporary setting. In one word: Harlequin.

People sniff at Harlequin as "dime store throwaway novels," or "bodice rippers" - both of which are such inaccurate representations I can't even begin to argue without my bosoms heaving in indignation. Harlequin, also known as category romance, is an art when it's done well, and an exercise in abdominal-exercising-hilarity when it's done silly and awful. Nora Roberts likened it to performing Swan Lake in a phone booth - and she's bang on as usual. The short length and structure of a category romance force the author to employ words that represent a lot in only a few letters. Sometimes, that's an overladen cliche that makes me giggle. Other times, it's a turn of phrase so evocative and simple, I have to read it again.

I'm craving category romances right now because I'm extremely busy, and Harlequin romances can deliver all the powerful emotional narrative plus the happy ending in an hour's time. It's enormously satisfying.

I just finished a wonderful category, Sara Craven's Ruthless Awakening, which took some standard stereotypes - the brooding, wealthy hero, the misunderstood heroine, the rags-to-pseudo-riches plotline - and subverted them so that every scene I expected to go one way went another, and every character I expected to be simple to understand was more complex and subtle than I anticipated. All that in 192 pages.

When I'm short on time - which is often, and longing for something powerfully entertaining, the tiny powerhouse paperback romances from Harlequin (or Mills & Boon in the UK) are exactly what I'm after. Behind the often silly titles lies a wonderful interlude of entertainment and joy.
Visit Sarah Wendell at her website and the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue