Thursday, October 20, 2011

A (Very) Brief (Non-scientific) Study in Perceptions of Romance Novels

A few months ago, I asked y'all to answer a survey for me. It was a project for a grad school class I was taking. I meant to share the results with you, but I never got around to it until now. Sorry! Read on if you're curious.

For my individual project, I decided to use my social media networks to find out a little bit about people's varying perceptions of romance novels. I am a long-time reader of popular fiction, including romance novels. And romance novels have long gotten a bad rap -- it's actually hard for some people to admit that they like to read them because so many people look down on them as "garbage." I'll totally admit that there are a lot of romance novels that are silly and badly written, and a small step up from porn in book format. But, in my opinion, there are lots of romance novels that are beautifully written, with great stories, complex characters, and interesting plots. A romance novel is simply a story that is about love, which ends happily. What's not to like?

But getting you all to understand my love of romance novels is not what this project is about. I thought it would be interesting to somehow capture a visual representation of people's perceptions of romance novels -- and somehow to compare the perception of people who actually read romance novels to the general population.

So, this study was not at all scientific. But there was a method to my madness. I created two surveys using Google forms. They both asked the same question: What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of romance novels? I posted the link to one of the surveys to my facebook page, asking people to take the survey and then post the link to their facebook walls to spread it to more people. These participants were meant to represent the "general population." Now, granted, this is not at all a valid sample of the general population -- they are all people I know, or people who know someone I know. But it is a fairly mixed group of people. The second survey I posted to my book blog. This is a blog that I've kept for the last five years or so, which is entirely devoted to my book reviews of popular fiction -- and the vast majority are romance novels. Nearly all the people who visit the blog are people who read romance novels. I asked this readership to take the survey, then post the survey to their own romance book blog. This group was meant to represent romance readers -- people who frequently actually read romance novels.

The number of participants for each survey was pretty good. I was hoping to have at least 100 people answer each survey. My facebook survey was slightly disappointing, since I only got 79 people to answer. My romance reader population was a problem at first, since not that many people read my blog. However, I sent an email to the writers of one of the most popular romance blogs in the blogosphere (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), and they were nice enough to tweet the plea for people to take my survey (AWESOME!). I soon had almost 200 responses to that survey.

I then took the one-word answers of each survey and plugged it into Wordle. This produced a word cloud that shows the most common answers in large font, with less popular answers in increasingly smaller fonts. It provides an immediate visual representation of people's perceptions of romance novels.

Here is the Wordle for the general population:

And here is the Wordle for the romance-reading population:

[You can click on the photos to view larger.]

You can see that there is a huge difference between these two populations' perceptions of romance novels. The general population thinks romance novels are all about sex, that they are trashy and cheesy. For romance readers, by far the most popular answer was "love," followed by happy and fun.

I loved the way this project allowed me to use my social networks to tap into large populations of people almost immediately. I posted the surveys and just sat back and watched as my data streamed in. I was also able to target a particular kind of participant by using the romance-reader blogosphere that I've become a part of. The power of Web 2.0!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kristan Higgins glom

Angie posted a few weeks ago about Kristan Higgins, saying that she was a great writer for Jennifer Crusie fans. Of course, I am a huge Jennifer Crusie fan, so I decided to check Higgins out. So glad I did! I went on a glom and read all 7 of her books. And my library didn't have any of them, so I bought them all for my Kindle! This is quite a compliment to Higgins, as I am quite cheap.

I'm not sure exactly how to classify Higgins' books -- they're contemporary romances, but they also feel a bit womens-fiction-y, in that they focus quite a lot on the heroine's family and personal growth/issues. And they're all very funny. I was immediately sucked into all of them -- I thought all the main characters (with just a couple exceptions) were really great and interesting and likeable. They're all set in New England, most of them in idyllic small towns.

They're the kind of book I start reading and hours later I'm still reading and don't want to stop.

My favorites were Catch of the Day (the heroine is an identical twin!) and All I Ever Wanted. And she has a new one coming out on 10/25 -- will probably have to buy that one too. :)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Please take my short, short survey!!

Hi all! I am really hoping you all can help me out and follow the link below to take a super-short (1-question) survey about romance novels.

I need about 100 people to take the survey, so I'd also really love it if anyone wants to post the link on their own blog. Because otherwise, I won't get enough participants. BUT, this survey should only be taken by people who read romance novels frequently (defined as several per year), so please post to your blog only if most of your readers fit this description.


This is for a school project. Basically I'm comparing people's perceptions of romance novels -- between those who often read romance novels and the general population (as I can reach through my facebook account). It's not exactly a scientific study, but I think it'll be interesting.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Eloisa James

Title: When Beauty Tamed the Beast
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2011, HarperCollins
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

Eloisa James is one of my absolute favorite romance authors, so I bought this one as soon as it came out. Even though I wasn't crazy about her last one (A Kiss at Midnight) and I was even less crazy about The Lady Most Likely, which she co-wrote with Julia Quinn and Connie Brockway. But When Beauty Tamed the Beast was lovely! Yay.

This is (obviously) a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, though it follows the original storyline only very slightly and is quite original. Linnet Thrynne is the beauty -- the most beautiful woman on the marriage mart in London. Unfortunately, she attracted the attention of the prince, who then dumped her and ruined her reputation even though she didn't really do anything wrong. So her father sends her off to Wales as a prospective bride for Piers Yelverton, who is the son of a Duke. He is the beast of the story, but rather than being beastly in appearance, he's beastly in attitude -- a seriously painful injury sustained as a child has made him an irascible man who is rude to pretty much everyone. He's also a doctor, which is quite unusual for a gentleman of that time period. Linnet at first thinks that this match is impossible, but as she gets to know him better, she sees him for the good man he is.

I really loved all the characters in this book. Linnet is smart and surprisingly not annoyingly snobby about her beauty. And Piers! So funny. As I was reading the book, I was thinking, who does this guy remind me of? And then it occurred to me -- House! And the author actually says in the afterword that he was the inspiration for Piers. The dialog between Linnet and Piers is such a delight to read. I also appreciated that while it's a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it's really very original, with a great little twist on the story at the end.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Waking the Witch, Kelley Armstrong

Title: Waking the Witch
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Published: 2010, Dutton
Category: Fantasy
Rating: 7/10

I can't believe this is the 11th book in the Women of the Otherworld series! It doesn't seem like that many, but I think I've read them all...

This installment of the series focuses on Savannah Levine, the powerful young witch first introduced in Stolen (right?). She's 21 now, and she's been working for years with Paige and Lucas in the supernatural detective agency that they set up. She's been doing mostly grunt work and background research, but now Paige and Lucas are on vacation when a multiple-murder case comes in. Savannah sees it as her chance to take the primary investigator's role and prove to everyone that she can handle it. She travels to the little town where three women have been murdered in what appears to have been some sort of supernatural ritual. She has lots of suspects, as well as handsome men who all seems to want to help her investigate: Adam, from the previous novels; Jesse Aanes, another supernatural detective; and Michael Kennedy, a human police detective.

I enjoyed this one, but it's not my favorite of the series. The mystery was well done and interesting, though I felt that the magical elements were slightly under-used until the very end. Savannah is a great character -- definitely the best part of the book -- and her budding relationship with Adam is sweet. I only have one major complaint: CLIFF HANGER. Argh! I flipped the last page thinking there just had to be more to read. But nope. Just have to wait until the next book, I guess. ;)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What the Librarian Did, Karina Bliss

Title: What the Librarian Did
Author: Karina Bliss
Published: Harlequin, 2010
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 8/10

I hardly ever read Harlequins -- it's really not because I'm a snob! I have tried several in the past and been disappointed by them. But this one got such a lot of good buzz in the blogosphere I had to give it a shot. Plus it's about a librarian! Score.

Rachel is a librarian working in a university in Auckland, New Zealand. When Devin Freedman comes in for help she treats him like any other student -- she doesn't know that he's a world-famous musician whose wild lifestyle and alcoholism has ruined his music career. He's now getting a business degree and trying to find a new life for himself. Devin finds Rachel's reaction to him refreshing, and they strike up a little flirtation. Rachel also meets another student named Mark, who she soon realizes is the son she gave up for adoption 17 years previously. She's not ready to tell Mark who she is, but she really wants to get to know him. Luckily Mark has befriended Devin, and Devin keeps asking her out on dates. So she decides to get to know Devin, so that she can get to know Mark through him.

Okay, so the plot may be a little ridiculous, but I really enjoyed this book! The New Zealand setting was quite interesting and different. I found the dialogue between Rachel and Devin really funny.
"It figures you'd be an advocate of prohibition," he commented as he opened the passenger door.
"I've noticed before that you typecast librarians," she said kindly. "But as your experience of learning institutions is obviously quite new I'll make allowances."
And when Rachel comes down dressed for their date in a black dress and cardigan:
Cardigan? He might not be a hell-raiser anymore but Devin valued his reputation. "Haven't you got anything sexy?"
"Yes," said Rachel. "My mind."

The love story is very nice, as is the way Rachel's relationship with her son develops. I may find it a little hard to believe that a rich, spoiled rock star would act the way Devin does (i.e. so normal), but it was very entertaining.

Does anyone know how to find the copyright date in a Kindle book??! It doesn't display on the copyright page. The librarian in me just died a little bit.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Published: 2009, Knopf
Category: Mystery
Rating: 6/10

I finally read this because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It turned out to be one of those books that I could appreciate, but not really enjoy.

Mikael Blomkvist is a Swedish journalist who has been convicted of libel for trying to take down a corrupt businessman. While he's down on his luck, he's convinced by Henrik Vanger (another businessman) to investigate the disappearance (and assumed murder) of Vanger's niece Harriet, which took place 40 years earlier. Mikael travels to the small town where Harriet lived -- the murder mystery becomes a closed-room story, as it soon becomes obvious that Harriet's murderer must have been one of the people in the extended family. Mikael is helped by Lisbeth Salander, a troubled young woman who is incredibly intelligent and an excellent hacker.

As I said earlier, I can appreciate this book as a story that intrigues and stays with you long after you finish it. The characters are complex and interesting, and the mystery is well done. But it's simply not my cup of tea. The Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women, and in my opinion is much more appropriate for the book. The main theme of the novel is how women are mistreated (quite horribly and graphically) by men. Each chapter starts with awful statistics that prove how many women are mistreated by men. It quite depressed me.

Also, the first hundred pages are sooo slow. And full of confusing Swedish names, places, political and economic history, and currency. So, if you try this book, keep trucking through the beginning -- it does get better.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Upstairs, Downstairs Stories

I almost didn't hear about Downton Abbey, the new 4-part series that aired on Masterpiece! Luckily PBS has put the full episodes online, so I was able to watch them. LOVE! Unlike most Masterpiece movies, it's not based on a classic novel. But it was written and produced by Julian Fellowes, who also wrote Gosford Park (another favorite). I love this period (just before WWI), and I've always liked upstairs, downstairs stories. Maggie Smith is so very funny, and the ladies' costumes are wonderful. And there's going to be a second season of it! Hooray.

Of course, the movie put me in the mood for The Countess Below Stairs -- one of my absolute favorite books -- so I'm rereading that now. Anyone else have recommendations for upstairs, downstairs books?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marrying the Royal Marine, by Carla Kelly

Title: Marrying the Royal Marine
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 2010, Harlequin
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 8/10

This is the third in Carla Kelly's new trilogy, and in my opinion the best one. It's about Polly Brandon, sister to the women in the first two books in the series. Polly is just 18, but she's decided that she wants to help out in some way during the Napoleonic War. She goes to stay with her sister, Laura, who works in a military hospital. On the voyage from England to Oporto, Portugal, she meets Hugh Junot, the Royal Marine of the title. They become great friends on the journey, but there are lots of impediments to any relationship: their age difference, her sisters' disapproval, each character's uncertainty that the other would return their affection, the war.

I enjoyed these characters more than I have the heros and heroines of the earlier books in this series. Carla Kelly's characters are always endearingly stalwart, and excruciatingly honorable, and good. And of course this is a good thing, but occasionally it crosses the line into gloomy for me. Polly and Hugh are a little lighter than some of her characters -- Polly is young and naive (but not stupid), and Hugh is refreshingly non-traumatized by the grueling war. He's a very attractive hero (and funny!).

The action in this book is also quite good -- I was reading the pages fast and furious. And that's really a bonus for a Carla Kelly book -- I generally read her books because I enjoy reading a romance about characters who actually seem like real people!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Advent Calendars!

Twin has created the most adorable garland advent calendars!

She's actually been making these for a few years, and I always love they way they look hanging over the mantel or across the wall back when we lived in a little apartment with no fireplace. This year she's decided to sell the kit in her etsy shop -- so you can make your very own! The kit is a downloadable PDF with instructions and templates for two different designs.

You can read more about them on Twin's blog. My mantel is definitely going to be decorated with the Starry Trees design this year. :)