July 13, 2016

When A Book Just Sucks Too Much

By Elizabeth Shore

One aspect of the romance writing community that forever keeps our spirits buoyed is the unfledgling support we give and get from one another, like a big beating heart of love for those of us who write about it. That support can be a lifeline when doubt or rejection or eroding self-confidence come knocking at the door. It can also help beat back the judgmental scorn we sometimes get from ignoramuses who dismiss the romance genre as so much bodice-ripping trash for desperate women craving mommy porn. We’ve heard it all before and we’ll hear it again yet we persevere and push on, knowing our peeps will have our backs at all times.

Except when we can’t.

Enter, the Unsupportable Book.

The UB is a book that, no matter what, you just can’t get behind. In theory you’d like to. You’re a writer, after all, and you support your fellow writers, even if just on principle. You know the effort it takes, the sacrifice needed, the hours and hours spent cooped up alone in your home when everyone else is basking outside in the summer sun. It doesn’t matter if another writer’s genre is vastly different from your own. You write romantic suspense and your fellow ink-spiller delves into paranormal? No problem. The support is as solid as your hunk’s marble chest. But such is not the case with the Unsupportable Book, because the UB’s got something in it that’s objectionable beyond redemption. The UB taints other books in the genre, putting a blight on us all and giving romance naysayers fuel to keep supporting their derision. I recently came across one such UB, a book that made me both sad and furious for all the reasons cited above. I almost didn’t finish it, yet I gamely trudged on, reading all the way to the end in the hope that it would get better. Instead, it got worse.

In the spirit of Lady Smut practice, I’m not going to name either the book or the author, but I’ll tell you this. It’s a paranormal vampire romance, the first in a series, it’s indie pubbed, and the author is listed as a New York Times bestselling author. Oh, who happens to be a guy. Ironically enough, I didn’t notice that last point until I was nearly finished with the book. But toward the end it occurred to me that the author’s voice really didn’t seem like a woman’s, and I wondered who it was. I pulled up the cover to look and ho and below (as my bff’s mother says), this UB was written by a dude. That in and of itself should be of no import as there are men out there writing good romance. But as one of my objections to this UB is gender-based, the fact that the author is male adds an interesting point to consider.

The book’s heroine is a Colombian prostitute who started turning tricks at age 14. The book begins with her in the U.S. illegally, but we learn that back in Bogotá she was sold to ply her trade to a drug cartel pimp. Of course she was. She’s Colombian, after all, a country of nothing but drug pushers who also, according to the book, “aren’t known for advance planning and organizational skills.” Yikes. What a charming little quip of racist commentary. With eyebrow raised, I nonetheless pressed on. To my detriment.

The biggest problem with this UB was two-fold. One, the misogynistic descriptions of the heroine. When she’s first sold to the cartel drug guy – I repeat, at age 14 – she’s made to sit naked around his house for three straight weeks while cartel guy invites friends and family over to sample her goods. So, in other words, repeated rape of a minor girl. O-kaaay. Then a few pages into the book is a really long, really graphic sex scene between our heroine and a female client. Nice messy violent lesbian sex, just what romance readers typically go for, right? And the hits just keep on coming. The second big problem with this UB is the frequent racist remarks. To wit: The female client is described as Asian American with her ancestral roots being Vietnamese. But she’s referred to as China girl.  Of course, who can blame our ignorant little Colombian whore, right? All those Asians look alike. An NYC taxi driver is alternately referred to as the “Abdul-Camel Jockey” and “the Jihad cab driver.” Never mind that he does nothing to indicate fanatical leanings and his ethnic background remains unknown. Silly details! Those NYC cabbies do seem a little suspicious. Everyone knows that.

The sad truth is, this UB wasn’t badly written and the heroine was likeable. But the barrage of racist remarks was too tough a hurdle for me to climb and there’s no way I’d recommend this book to anyone. Ever. Thus my support for this fellow romance writer’s book is, unfortunately, shelved.

Have you come across any Unsupportable Books lately? If so, what were the problems to put that book in the shameful category? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us at Lady Smut. We’ll support that.

Elizabeth Shore writes both contemporary and historical erotic romance. Her releases include Hot Bayou Nights and The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires. Her newest book is an erotic historical novella, Desire Rising, from The Wild Rose Press.



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  • Post authorJ.B. Rogers (@JB_Rogers)

    I can put up with a lot of problematic content in a story, as long as there’s some reason for it to be there. My cardinal sins are bad workmanship and breaking my suspension of disbelief. I’m an easy date, but don’t slap me or I’m going home.

    Workmanship – If you’re putting your work up for sale, know how to string words together in a competent manner. Spell them properly, put punctuation where it belongs, and in the name of all that’s naughty, know which homophone goes where! We use words and punctuation like carpenters use nail guns and saws – if you’re careless with them, you’re in the wrong business and might wind up hurting someone.

    Example: “The ladies attach reins to their pony boys and parade them there in the rain, proving that they’re strong women who reign supreme.” Get any of those words mixed up, and it’s bad news! (Not that I’d actually use such a clunky sentence, but that’s a different point.)

    Disbelief – I’ll cut a story a lot of slack when it comes to plausibility. The middle-aged workaholic manager has washboard abs and a teenager’s stamina? Fine. A medical startup’s doing human trials on a drug that changes your sex overnight? I’ll get over it; gender-switch stories need something weird like that. Just don’t go overboard.

    Example: I read a story recently where the narrator described herself as a “she-male” (twitch, but smut gets a pass) and claimed to be “passable as a female since birth.” Um… what?!? The whole idea of a toddler trying to pass was so jarringly WRONG that it completely took me out of the story. That’s the one thing you NEVER want to do to a reader.

    Reply to J.B. Rogers (@JB_Rogers)
  • Post authorHolly

    This happened to me with Outlander. I really liked the premise and enjoyed the book til it got to the punishments. I just could not get past it. I know it’s a best selling book and the TV show has a following but I couldn’t finish the book and I haven’t watched the TV show.

    Reply to Holly
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      It’s intense and harsh, yes. That’s one of the ways among the many that Gabaldon refused to color within the lines of her series. When I went back to re-read it I skipped and skipped and skipped that stuff. And there’s a lot of it! I just didn’t want to go there again.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
  • Post authorSG

    Correct grammar and punctuation are a big make-or-break point for me. Especially if an author charges for the book rather than a freebie, I feel like they have an obligation to the reader to hire an editor, or at least beg a knowledgeable friend to beta read.

    My next biggest pet peeve is sex scenes that go from detailed and hot to just plain gross. I read a book that had a good plot line, a great hero, likable heroine, and nice writing. Until the sex scenes, that is. Suddenly it turned into squelching lady parts, things dripping everywhere, and smells that probably should require medical attention. It was truly disgusting, and happened over and over again. Descriptive sex scenes can be great, but a little restraint in word choice goes a long way to determining if a reader finds the scene hot or is cringing in horror.

    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Squelching lady parts??!! Ick, ick, and double ick. I’m with you, SG. That would most definitely go in the bucket of NOT arousing.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorSerena Dracis, Author

    Oh my god, thank you for saying this! I’m trying to get my first novel published after getting a non-fiction book out. I’ve picked up roughly a dozen freebies or 99 cent books and most of them I can not get through. Bad punctuation, grammar, word choices that boot me right out of the story because I am left scratching my head wondering why??? Why would you use rein when you’re talking about ruling an empire? Why would you use infatuation when the female lead is describing the ultimate love of her life?

    I feel guilty because I can’t give a good review. I really want to sing their praises but cant. But they are an excellent education in How Not To Write. I’ve recognized mistakes in my own writing in those others, and promptly ran to fix them.

    It’s all about the learning curve.

    Reply to Serena Dracis, Author

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