This blog is full of spoilers. If you don't want to know don't click on the links. Every book read was well written and a good story even though there were aspects I felt uncomfortable about. The ones I didn't read probably were too but naturally I can't comment.
I learned about the squick factor from Maisey Yates, one of the new bestselling authors with Harlequin Mill & Boon and I'm forever indebted for this invaluable word. It apparently means the physical revulsion you get when something makes you squirm or feel icky. It's not necessarily a moral judgement, just a personal reaction. It's something I've been feeling a bit lately and lacked an effective way of expressing. Because the squick factor that paralyses ME may have absolutely no effect on the rest of the romance reading population.
It came to a head a fortnight ago when I read about twenty Modern HM&Bs in a row and ended up feeling like I'd done an Augustus Gloop and tried to drink a whole river of greasy, sickly sweet chocolate. It was days before I could pick up a book and try to read it without feeling a faint nausea and an uncomfortable tightness in my chest. I spent those days wondering exactly what I'd done to myself because on the whole I'd enjoyed every single book I'd read.
Then I realised that what I was feeling was a stress reaction. Which is ridiculous when I read romances to de-stress. So why was I finding them stressful? When I learned about the squick factor it clarified it for me. There is an emotional pattern to reading a typical HM&B Romance. It usually involves boy meets girl, some pretty severe angst and trauma that seems likely to part them forever, and then everything is resolved and people live happily ever after (unless of course you read a duet).
What is happening with many of the Moderns is that some aspect of the story is triggering the squick factor for me and when I get to the end I don't get that relief of unalloyed happiness that sweeps me away and all my cares and worries with it.
So what sort of things trigger my particular squick factor. Keep in mind that for any other reader these may simply be part and parcel of their enjoyable experience.
1. Hero in bed with Mistress in opening chapter.
After a squick reaction on Pancake Tuesday I decided to give up reading any book that started this way for Lent. So far I've put down three books on this account and am thinking of extending it to a lifetime ban. Oh yeah...and a new trend in books I hadn't noticed before, hero masturbating. Two books in a week was a little much for me but wont stop me reading...yet.
2. Heroine in sexual relationship with someone in opening chapter (Is a Master the equivalent to a Mistress or am I in the wrong imprint?)
So far one book put aside on this account and one audio book listened to the finish. It was a six hour trip...and there were extenuating circumstances.
3. Heroine pregnant to some random guy not the hero.
This is actually a tricky one because I've read a couple where the heroine was pregnant to a brother or close relation of the hero either married or serious relationship and it didn't squick me quite as much as another situation where it was just a loser ex boyfriend. But I'd prefer not to go there and in most cases I haven't if the blurb has warned me but examples are easy to find if you Google.
4. Too much detail about Heroes former Mistress.
Especially when they turn up as family friends and the Heroine has to be polite to the woman who is usually undermining the marriage. Read two of these recently and definitely added to squick factor.
5. Revelation, usually when the heroine is about to have sex with the hero, that she has had multiple casual partners in the past.
About five of those twenty nausea inducing Modern's had a heroine with this characteristic. Call me prudish but I feel more comfortable with a widow or just one serious relationship. Heaven forbid I should admit I like Virgin heroines best. If I want reality I don't look for it in a series romance novel. (see comment above about stress) Sorry gals but thats the way I am. I prefer to think the heroine shouldn't have to kiss too many frogs before finding her prince. The fact that the writing is brilliant and the books are mega sellers tells me that I'm in the minority on that particular squick factor but hey, there are also writers still catering for my old fashioned taste.
6. Now in case you think I'm old fashioned about girls but not guys... Major squick factor lately is the way the modern alpha male is constantly in bed with a woman.
Like these guys can apparently rule the finance world, an entire country even, but cannot control one small appendage. Excuse me, getting laid every night does not automatically translate into 'great lover'. Experience is one thing but in bondage to a libido is a weakness not a strength. This has become such an irritant to me that I put aside a book by an author I love for six months before I could force myself to read it because he turned up with his Mistress in the car to meet his arranged bride. It didn't turn out to be quite as bad as I thought but the fact that he did sleep with other women during the enforced engagement and after he'd met his future bride was a definite squick factor even though I love the story. Apparently this is quite acceptable because it is not uncommon in the Modern range of romances for a man forced into a marriage or engagement to continue sleeping around. I'm certainly going to miss Penny Jordan here though because she is one author who actually wrote about heroes who were abstinent for long periods of time.
7. No doubt there are other squick factors I could enumerate but I'll finish with the biggy. The one that has paralysed my mouse click finger over the Add to Cart button on not one but two of my favourite authors and made me cautious about a couple more. The issue is infidelity.
Any kind of infidelity once the hero and heroine have slept together but the deal breaker is marital infidelity. After three books by one of these authors in which the hero is unfaithful, two within the bonds of matrimony and one after the hero has made the heroine pregnant, I've been forced into a three strikes and you're out emotional paralysis. I simply cannot make myself read any more of their books even though intellectually I know they will be well written and even the infidelity will no doubt be justified within the bounds of the storyline. But I still derive the greatest pleasure from a story where the hero is faithful even over a long and difficult period of time.
Unfortunately it isn't just particular authors that I can no longer trust to deliver my HEA with wholehearted joy. After thirty five years of reading HM&B romances I'm aware that once a trend is established it will spread among other authors seeking challenging story lines. It will be justified because it is something that happens in the real world. So I need to accept I can no longer be assured of picking up a HM&B and being certain of a stress free read as was once promised in 'A pleasant book.'