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REVIEW: Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels...

Dear Ms. Wendell and Ms. Tan.

book review I spent Wednesday through Saturday last week at the Popular Culture Association Conference in New Orleans attending all the Romance Area panels. There were papers about domesticity as it constructs Eve’s character in JD Robb’s novels, and the moral construction of Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires she interacts with (from Jessica of Racy Romance Reviews, whom we have seduced to the dark side!), and how Milton’s Paradise Lost informs and creates the themes of Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm, and how sadomasochism is constructed and subverted by BDSM romances. An excerpt from this book would have fit right in at the conference, because it’s that insightful and well-researched. And a few “cuntmonkey”s and “fuck”s would certainly be no less inappropriate at an academic conference than me reading out loud “fisting his own cock desperately and sucking on his fingers like a whore sucking cock for a fix.”

You ladies need no introduction to the romance world, of course. You are the Smart Bitches, romance reviewers, fans, and advocates. (And Google-bombers extraordinaire.) Now, I consider Sarah a friend. I’ve eaten in your kitchen, seen your bedroom (lots of books), and wiped kid-spooge off your childrens’ faces as you have off mine. Candy, well, you’re 3000 miles away, although I’m sure you’re a lovely person. But I read this book as a scholar first and foremost and I have to say it’s invaluable to the academic romance field we’re working so hard to build, as well as hugely entertaining to everyone who might be lucky enough to pick it up.

With cleverly titled chapters (Chapter Cleavage, Chapter Codpiece, Chapter WTF), BHB moves through the history of romance, the history of analysis of romance, the problems with romance, the future of romance (digital, digital, digital), and — most importantly — the joys and delights of romance. You don’t defend romance, per se, so much as show why the romance genre is so far beyond need of defense as to laugh in the very face of defense. And although you’re funny as fuck, you’re still methodical and insightful. Your extensive knowledge of the romance genre, both past and present, is obvious, as is your analytical ability. Would that all scholars were as thorough and as entertaining as you.

We are introduced to Mavis, the stereotypical romance reader, bless her heart. And to the Romance Plot Flow Chart. And to other deliciously snarky lists and descriptions. (Although my favorite is a fabulous picture of the evolution of the hero that readers will have to buy the book to see.)

But we’re also introduced to concepts like the two camps in the discourse surrounding romance: those Who Just Don’t Get It vs. the Cheerleaders. You Bitches manage to summarize in two pages what a contributor to my (not yet published, but soon!) academic volume on popular romance fiction does in a 4000 word article. And your summary is much more entertaining, because you can use words like “bugfuck” and “Bitching picnic.”

A sampling of the Awesome: The Bitching Dictionary tells us that a Vampire is “1: Immortal, soulless animated corpse that drinks the blood of the living. This is for some reason, considered extremely sexy. 2: An excuse for authors to inflict their most Outrhageous Nhames on the reading populace. 3: IS MORE EMO THAN YOU.” A typology of the romance heroine that includes a “Hymn to the Hymen” and one of the romance hero that includes a discussion of “The Hero’s Wang of Mighty Lovin’” (and of course, emails from Lord Hawklencravenbearesfordvilleperegrineton). Two chapters on sex (rape and good sex). “Create Your Own Deflowering Scene” magnetic poetry kits! Interviews with Emma Holly and John DeSalvo! And a full chapter on Controversies, including, of course, the Cassie Edwards plagiarism scandal. The explanations of the chronology of the scandal and the discussion of the meaning and results of Edwards’ plagiarism were succinct and a worthwhile and necessary summary of the event.

The Choose Your Own Romance at the end of the novel integrates everything that you analyzed into a hysterically funny exploration of the romance genre (that goes on a teensy bit too long if you’re reading the whole thing from front to back, which I guess is my fault for being anal). The chapter on the future of romance discusses e-publishing and, as is the way of things, already seems just slightly out of date — because the Intarwebz moves at the speed of stupidity, after all, which can be very very quick.

But there’s nothing stupid about this book. It’s snigger and giggle and burst out loud laughing funny, it’s perceptive, it’s enlightening, it’s incredibly well-researched, and it’s just plain fun. It will convince your readers to shout out loud from the rooftops that they’re romance readers. Or at least to raise a suggestive eyebrow at the sneering bookstore clerk when they buy their books.

Grade: A-

Sincerely,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in trade format from your favorite independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

26 Comments

  1. KMont
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:17:02

    Sold. I’m definitely getting it. The reason? The definition for vampire. With the way life can get sometimes, I need to be reminded something out there can be more emo than me.

    ReplyReply

  2. Bree
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:30:46

    The definition for vampire.

    I already got my copy and laughed out loud when I saw that. Though not as hard as I laughed when I got to the definition for simultaneous orgasm.

    Well done, ladies. Seriously, well done.

    ReplyReply

  3. Minx Malone
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:09:27

    Ok I totally have to order this now! Sounds great.

    ReplyReply

  4. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:47:24

    All I can say is that it better be at B&N after this last weekend. Oye. :D

    Great review.

    ReplyReply

  5. ReacherFan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:15:05

    I sat and read the book all too quickly and I’m now going back thru it a second time. While I might have a few quibbles here and there, the SM’s nailed it! The Old Skool vs. New Skool is dead nuts on and the emails were a complete howl. A delight.

    ReplyReply

  6. SonomaLass
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:37:36

    I nom-nom-nommed this book as soon as I could (right after that pile of essays I had to grade). I’m in re-read mode now. I absolutely love the combination of academic and snarky approaches; the blend of the two really works for me. It accurately reflects the way I feel about romance as a field of endeavor — love it, and love to pick it apart, both analytically and for sheer WTFery.

    Now I want to write an academic paper using this approach. Cross-dressing actresses in the 19th century cry out for the one-two punch of serious and snarky.

    ReplyReply

  7. she reads
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:03:03

    I agree that it is smart, funny, VERY well researched, and totally in depth on the topics covered. There is not anything stupid about this book.

    That said, I found myself frustrated by it at times (why must so much be aimed at historical reading? I LOATHE 98% of historical novels!!) and I wished for more specifics for ‘guide’, a little less on the old skool and rape talk. I assumed some more listing of ‘these specific books kick ass + here’s why’ would be taking place to help readers educate themselves in ways of excellent reading. Some books mentioned, not nearly enough for me.

    Overall- a definite great thing to have on my bookshelf, and definitely POSITIVE for romance as a whole.

    ReplyReply

  8. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:39:14

    I made the grave error of reading this after I’d gone through surgery. I told Sarah my doctor would have been Quite Put Out if I’d busted stitches from the laughing.

    ReplyReply

  9. MWest
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 17:08:41

    Excellent! Very glad this is out. And at a bookstore near me…

    ReplyReply

  10. My Sordid Relationship with Romance Novels
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 17:19:58

    [...] published, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. A reviewer on Dear Author had this to say about the book, “It will convince your readers to shout out loud from the [...]

  11. kirsten saell
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 17:26:42

    I went to buy this from the Sony ebookstore, and it’s US only! Grrrr….

    Canada gets cornholed once again.

    ReplyReply

  12. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 17:44:57

    @she reads: Very good point! I was reading it with the academic view of past history and criticism and for that it’s fantastic. The classifications of heroes and heroines has discussion of current books, but if you’re looking for “If You Like X-Author, Then You’ll Like Y-Author,” you’re not really going to find it. And I didn’t notice the historical slant, but yes, it’s there. With a lot of paranormal thrown in, true, but still.

    That said, it’s still fantastically funny, incredibly insightful, and a damned good time.

    ReplyReply

  13. Moth
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 18:35:47

    I already spent my money this week on frivolities like, you know, food, BUT I’m so happy my library has this so I can read it!

    ReplyReply

  14. Cassia
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 18:41:49

    *cries* This book isn’t out in Korea yet, and I’m not using Amazon to buy anything.

    *__* It’s supposed to be out here at the end of the month, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

    ReplyReply

  15. DeeCee
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 19:02:33

    I rather liked the Smart Bitch’s Law 1…verily thou art a douche bag!

    ReplyReply

  16. Kate Diamond
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 19:23:51

    I will definitely be buying this book, as soon as I recover from the pain of my taxes!

    Thanks for the review.

    ReplyReply

  17. she reads
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 19:30:19

    That said, it's still fantastically funny, incredibly insightful, and a damned good time.

    @Joan/SarahF – I agree, and the more time away from my reading of it, the more I keep thinking about some parts and passages that BEG to be re-read. Would I have love, love, loved it more had it been more balanced with contemp. and other sub-genres and more ‘we suggest’ or ‘this kicks ass’. Of course that remains.

    Who knows – perhaps a bosoms #2?

    ReplyReply

  18. Lauren
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 20:00:12

    In truth, I was so going to check this book out because I LOVE me the Smart Bitches.
    And now knowing they’ve interviewed John DeSalvo?!! Holy hell it’s on!

    I play a game in the romance aisles of bookstores where I count the DeSalvo covers/stepbacks and try to get over 20. A few years ago it was a LOT, but now he’s being outsourced by Nathan Kamp. It started by the realization that he was on 80% of my books and I had never noticed til Smart Bitches did a DeSalvo Covers Gone Wild edition.

    ::has weird crack! hobby of DeSalvo::

    ReplyReply

  19. Camille
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 20:24:03

    I really, badly want a copy of this piece of genius writing but can anybody tell me where I can get my hands on it in Australia without having to order it online? I don’t think the bookstores are selling it, shame on them.

    ReplyReply

  20. M E 2
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 08:30:49

    Ugghhh ….. now I am torn. I am not a huge fan (anymore) of historicals and I’d rather poke someones eye(s) out than read a paranormal (largely because I don’t care for them and minutely because of the over-saturation of the market with them)

    ReplyReply

  21. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 09:03:48

    @M E 2: It’s totally not like that. The bulk of the book is Sarah and Candy’s analysis of romance in general. They tend to use historicals as examples, but not all the time, and that’s certainly not the focus of the book. The focus is a insightful, funny, reader-driven analysis of the genre as a whole. And did I mention funny?

    ReplyReply

  22. Cathy
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:11:30

    Just finished with the Heaving Bosoms, and have to agree that it was definitely an A book. I really enjoyed the discussion of romance over the last 30 years, and how the genre changed to mirror changing social attitudes – that was really insightful, and something I was mostly unaware of, having only started reading romance in the last 10 or so years. I also loved the choose your own adventure at the end, especially the paranormal section – so funny and snarky, yet so reflective of many books out there!

    ReplyReply

  23. BOOK REVIEW: Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tam « Tour’s Books Blog
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 13:16:15

    [...] My Grade: A- (this is the same grade from Dear Author.  To read their review click here.) [...]

  24. Jana Oliver
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 14:32:15

    The flowchart sold it. I ordered two copies from B&N. A buddy of mine writes romance and I know she’ll love it for her birthday.

    Well done, Bitches!

    Jana

    ReplyReply

  25. votermom
    Jun 02, 2009 @ 07:42:46

    Just read this — funniest book I’ve read in ages, yet very engrossing & enlightening.

    ReplyReply

  26. [Rezension] Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan – Beyond Heaving Bosoms » Steflite
    Jan 26, 2012 @ 01:04:49

    [...] 4/5 ::: Dear Author A- [EN] Share this:EmailFacebook  Posted by Steffie at 8:04 [...]

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