Showing posts with label Elizabeth Lowell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elizabeth Lowell. Show all posts

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflections on Contemporary Romance & Too Hot to Handle by Elizabeth Lowell

I've read a few recently acquired older romances and one of the things I've found interesting is how some of these books stand the test of time and some of them just seem... dated. This seems particularly evident to me in contemporary romances, weather it's the writing style, what was acceptable to write/include in romances at the time, fashion, dialogue and/or attitudes.

However thinking about it, that's the reason these books are called contemporaries after all -- the content reflects contemporary times, whatever those times may be. If well written, as time passes these contemporary books become a glimpse into the past. In a way they almost become historicals... I mean think about it. Read a contemporary book set in the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's and even the 1980's (don't kill me) and what do you get? A tiny piece of history... even if it's just in the style of writing and what was acceptable and popular during that era.

Pop culture is pop culture and contemporary fiction is a great way to glimpse these little pieces of history as we go along. However in this case, when referencing contemporaries within the romance genre there's a glitch. I've always found contemporary romances to be behind the times when it comes to relationships between men and women, specifically when it comes to women and their true roles in society -- in many cases I found that pop culture was often ignored as well. I think this applied mostly in romance books written in the 1970's, 80's and even 90's where in most cases women were still characterized as submissive, repressed or innocent/naive and even when portrayed as working or independent women, they somehow reverted to those roles. That has changed for the most part, although unfortunately not completely, within the contemporary romance genre.

I remember always being amazed, shocked and awed when reading contemporary romances in the 1980's and even in the 1990's when all (or almost all) the heroines were virgins -- not that there's anything wrong with being a virgin. It's just that after the 1960's sexual revolution, the one that came along with the pill, there seemed to be very few 25 and 30 year old virgins around. So the fact that almost all the heroines in contemporary romances were virgins, always left me wondering if those authors would ever write, or be allowed to write, about the rest of the female population.

I also always wondered when the time would come that female romance readers would stop judging those romance heroines who were not virgins... as sluts. It seemed that the romance genre would never catch up with the 60's sexual revolution or with contemporary female roles in society -- the independent working woman with freedom to choose a relationship when ready. Reality vs. fantasy. How we are vs. how we would like to see ourselves. Fascinating.

A great example of the type of contemporary romances that were being written during the 1980's, but one that is not truly representative of the era is Too Hot to Handle by Elizabeth Lowell. It's interesting because I enjoyed the first -- recognizing the style and the format, the types of characters and story. So this book is definitely dated in the way it is written -- the style.

Interestingly enough some of my old frustrations came back to the surface. This book was written in 1986, yet it could have been written way before that. There's little if anything there that reflects that era, so it's not dated when it comes to pop culture. It certainly has nothing to say when it comes to the reactions of an independent young woman in her 20's during that time -- definitely a retro-style romantic fantasy.

The book is 249 pages, the first meeting between the protagonists takes the first 85 pages of the book, and by end of those 85 pages, they want each other... badly. But the heroine is a useless/clumsy/city girl who's coming from Los Angeles and trying to get a job at the hero's ranch, and HE wants a real woman who will help him run that ranch.

The hero is one of those stereotypical ones who is hot for the heroine on sight, but who decides she's not good enough for him. So he turns hostile, mean and bossy because he's horny and treats the heroine like crap until about half way through the story. Once they get together, he then turns into a tender and hot sexin' machine. Their sexin' scenes go on for page after page and they are HOT -- the highlight is a super-duper HOT sexin' scene on top a horse! And it wasn't just because it was summer and they were ambling/riding through a meadow. Of course that's before he turns back into a mean jerk again... and then reverts to the tender hero by the end so they can have a happily ever after.

The heroine is a virgin in her 20's. She's one of those perfectly perfect young women who had a rough childhood and suffers in silence. And even though she lived in Los Angeles independently and left home at age 16, she has somehow managed to stay naive, innocent and untouched -- her hormones never kicked in until she met HIM. For our girl, it doesn't matter how mean or hostile the hero gets throughout their "romance," she just wants to please him. Of course, our hero gets turned on by the fact that she's a virgin and he calls her "my sweet little virgin" so many times... that I was actually relieved when he finally got rid of that impediment, and needless to say that first time was painless and glorious! And no matter how much of a jerk this hero is throughout the story, he is HOT and our heroine understands... and well... if you've read a book like this you know where it goes from there.

This book certainly brought back memories of many a contemporary romance and even through some of my frustrations, I had to smile and actually laughed at some pretty inappropriate times -- mostly when I anticipated the dialogue... the predictability of it all. The story was just so familiar it felt as if I'd read it many times even though this was the first time. I must admit despite all the frustration, Lowell wrote some pretty enjoyable hot scenes and I'm sure this book was probably quite popular during that time.

Unlike this book, there are a few contemporary romances that I think stand the test of time... but I'll save those thoughts for another post.