(Note: the hot button I’m referring to isn’t related to our previous discussion on how to heat up the fictional bedroom. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
Last week I randomly clicked on a link to a review for Judith James’ Libertine’s Kiss. (I can’t find that link now, so if this description of the review sounds familiar, please let me know.) The review was thoughtful and complimentary, and awarded the novel 4.5 stars out of 5.
At the end, the reviewer gave her reasons why she’ll never re-read Libertine’s Kiss, even though she thought the book was well-written. It features two subjects she doesn’t like reading about, even in fiction: sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Let me say here that Libertine’s Kiss is far and away one of the best books I’ve read this year. I reviewed it for The Season and gave it a 9, which made it a top pick for August. (You can read my review here.) The thing I loved most about it was that the characters have to face real-life problems, and they face them realistically and honestly.
Their happy ending is hard-fought-for and, because of that, I can relate to their story much more easily than I can to billionaire characters in the Mediterranean.
Reading that other person’s review reminded me of an interview I read earlier this year with Deidre Knight, after Butterfly Tattoo came out in print. Again, a book I loved because the focus is on characters struggling to overcome their hang-ups; yet it took Deidre Knight years to get it published because of the hero’s unusual past.
It made me wonder whether I have any hot-button topics that would keep me from enjoying or reading a book. There are certainly loads of subjects I hate seeing treated lightly – when a heroine is raped to gain sympathy from the hero, for example. I completely understand that certain topics can be painful to read about, depending on an individual’s experiences. That’s not really what I’m talking about here, and I don’t think it’s what that review was talking about.
The only hot-button topic I could think of is incest, or anything that smells of inbreeding. I recently read Stephanie Laurens’ All About Passion, and the hero and heroine are cousins. Now, I know that was a common thing in the past, but the story kept making the point about how similar they were because they were related. I found it difficult not to picture the deformed children they would create together. The same issue gave me the ickies when I read Geogette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, where the hero and heroine are first cousins.
Other than that, though, I don’t think I have any off-limits topics.
For me, fiction is about exploring the ways we react and adapt to the crap life throws us. I think the most interesting novels start with a character who’s suffered something beyond their control. I want to read about how they cope with that. How they seize control of their own life again. How they become more powerful through battling adversity.
As long as a story is as intelligently and sensitively written as Libertine’s Kiss and Butterfly Tattoo, I will re-read it till it falls apart. (Or, in the case of Libertine’s Kiss, till my downloaded reviewer copy from NetGalley expires.)
Are there any topics you don’t want to read about? Any taboo topics you think romance novels shouldn’t touch? Or does it depend on how the author handles them?