We’ve all done it. Tried to keep it a secret, hoping no one finds out. Our furtive habit that so many people tell us we shouldn’t do, but we just can’t help ourselves. Some of us start when we’re older, and others, like me, get started when we’re teenagers, getting hooked because of one of our friends.
What am I talking about? Reading romance novels, of course!
How many of us have heard comments like “Why don’t you read something with real literary value?” or “That’s just escapist, fantasy fluff!”
Hearing these comments over and over again can get pretty frustrating, and it’s tough not to get snippy when people outside the romance community (even booksellers!) make judgments about us for what we choose to read.
But, friends, we’re not the first to criticized for our reading habits.
Back in the 19th century, with printing and shipping costs lowering, as well as a more literate populace, inexpensive books known as penny dreadfuls or dime novels became wildly popular in the United States and England. The books were full of adventure and excitement, their subjects running the gamut from detective stories, Gothic ghost tales, historical sagas to—yes—tales of the Wild West.
The penny dreadfuls were aimed at younger readers, but that didn’t stop adults from devouring these exciting tales, too. They were often distinguished by their fabulously illustrated covers, frequently featuring a damsel in distress or a hero performing an act of incredible bravery. Given how difficult life was for many in the 19th century, is it any surprise how popular these books became?
And just like romance novels today, the penny dreadfuls and dime novels had their critics. Many sniffed that they were just trash, and corrupted impressionable minds.
It’s not shocking, then, that Lady Olivia Xavier, the heroine of LADY X’S COWBOY, keeps her penny dreadful reading habits secret. Olivia is a knight’s widow with a high standing in Victorian Society’s eyes. She can’t let her wealthy, aristocratic friends know that instead of reading Ruskin or moral tracts, she loves to immerse herself in stories of grand adventure. Her favorites also happen to be tales of the Wild West, where the rules of Society don’t apply and people can be measured not by their wealth or bloodline, but the strength of their character.
Olivia made the rather shocking decision to actually run the brewery her late husband left her, instead of simply collecting income from the business. But as her brewery became more successful, she attracted an aristocratic rival, and he wants to take the business away from her. One day, Olivia is attacked outside her brewery by some of her rival’s hired thugs—but a man steps out of the fog to come to her aid.
A genuine cowboy. Exactly like the kind she’s been reading about.
Will Coffin is a Colorado cowboy who’s come to England to find his long-lost family. He’s never met a honest-to-goodness English lady before, but that’s just what Olivia is. She offers him a shocking proposal: she’ll help him find his family in exchange for his help in protecting her brewery. He decides to take her up on her offer, and their shared adventures—and attraction—surpass anything Olivia has ever read about.
So, tell me, did you or do you ever have to hide your romance novel reading from anyone? Was there another genre of fiction you kept secret from your friends and family? And how did you (or do you) answer the critics? One commenter will win a digital copy of LADY X’S COWBOY.
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