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The Heat Is On With These Summer Romance Novels


I'm Audie Cornish with help for those of you who are looking for something to read this summer and you don't necessarily want to escape the heat - you want romance. Luckily for you, NPR Books is focusing on romance novels this summer, and joining me now to talk about it is our pop-culture blogger, Linda Holmes.

Hey there, Linda.


CORNISH: So first of all, we want to just acknowledge this is a genre that people tend to be dismissive of...

HOLMES: It is.

CORNISH: ...Right? Or to ignore. How have things changed in terms of how romance novels are viewed?

HOLMES: I think for readers, readers have gotten better at finding each other and finding authors online. Just like fans of lots of other things, romance novel readers, in a way, are a kind of geek. And I think a lot of geek communities - I say that as a positive thing - have found each other and managed to feel more at home, less self-conscious. But the dismissiveness that you talk about certainly still exists. You will hear a lot of uses of phrases like bodice-ripper, which is kind of both dated and a cliche and...

CORNISH: Which is a nod to, I guess, the old covers, right?

HOLMES: It's a nod to the old covers and kind of an old style of romance novel based on, like, titles that, you know, feel like the reluctant virgin and things like - that's not what romance is, but that's what it kind of refers to.

CORNISH: OK, Linda. So you've brought some romance novels, some picks for us. Ones that you love. These are your personal choices, nothing official. And you start with a book called, "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie, which has a pretty, like, what I think of as a chick lit kind of...

HOLMES: Cornball premise.

CORNISH: A little bit. You know, the chick lit plot, like, this woman is dumped a few weeks before her sister's wedding.

HOLMES: Not only that. Not only do you have dumped right before the wedding where I'm not going to have a date, but you also have a guy that she meets because his friends make a bet with him about asking her out. It is a combination of premises that are often really hackneyed in romance novels, but the execution of this one is really lovely. The dialogue between the characters is funny. She's sort of headstrong and can think for herself. And it's the one that I pick when people say, I'm willing to try romance, but I need a recommendation to start with. I always start with "Bet Me."

CORNISH: Another book you've brought us, a Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the writer behind "Match Me If You Can." And this is about a woman who takes on her grandmother's matchmaking business.

HOLMES: Exactly. And this is - a thing to know about romance is a lot of romances take place in these - within a series. And this is a whole series of books about men who are either part of or adjacent to a fictional professional football team.

CORNISH: OK. (Laughter).

HOLMES: So the guy who is in this book is a sports agent.

CORNISH: I notice that these are contemporary, and I know there's lots of people who are fans of historical.

HOLMES: Absolutely.

CORNISH: But there's all kinds of sub-genres, right, in this world?

HOLMES: It's important - I mean, my taste in romance is very specific, but there are a lot of romances being written with characters of color. There are more and more novels that you can find more easily that have two men or two women. One's with more sex, one's with less sex, one's with paranormal elements, one with historical. There is something for everybody. And what I like is just a little piece.

CORNISH: All right. You brought one more, which I think you had me in mind 'cause this feels a little bit like it could be a news story of some sort. This is a woman - the book is called "Something About You" by Julie James, and it's about a female assistant U.S. attorney.


CORNISH: So already, you have me worked up.

HOLMES: So she's an assistant U.S. attorney. He is an FBI agent.

CORNISH: And it's a murder mystery.

HOLMES: It's a murder mystery. And Julie James has - again, this is a series. She's written a bunch of - believe it or not, a bunch of romance novels about U.S. attorneys and FBI agents.

CORNISH: Who knew?

HOLMES: Well, she's a former lawyer herself.

CORNISH: She knew. (Laughter).

HOLMES: Yeah, she knew. So there's a whole bunch of these books, and they're really fun and I like them a lot. I've read all of them, as with several of these series, I've read the whole thing.

CORNISH: And Linda, before I let you go, I want to ask you one more question. How has your approach to summer reading changed over the years?

HOLMES: I think when I was young, like most people, I spent summers reading books that were assigned or reading books so that you could check them off that you'd read enough books.

CORNISH: "To Kill A Mockingbird," check.

HOLMES: Exactly. And those are wonderful books, but I think more and more as I've gotten older, it's been nice to adopt reading fiction as a little more recreational and a little less obligatory. So I think now I look at summer as a time to read both things that are really great that I've been meaning to catch up on, and things that allow me to relax and not think about work and not think about (laughter) whatever else I'm supposed to be doing.

CORNISH: That's NPR pop-culture blogger, Linda Holmes.

Linda, thanks so much.

HOLMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.