Talking Chaste Romance
Howdy, friends. It’s me, your friendly neighborhood bookworm. I’m back (again) because I have (more) thoughts on books that I want (need) to share. In this case, I want to talk about those romances that some in this industry treat like the tabooest of taboo… Here, let me give you a hint—
Fade-to-black, closed door, no-sex, kissing only, wholesome romance.
Honestly, there are so many names for books that fall within the spectrum of what we here at Book+Main call Chaste, that it’s not always easy to find the right one. For example, we also have the keyword Sweet, into which many chaste romances also fall, while on Amazon, you’ll find the category called Clean & Wholesome. (Side note: I am personally not a fan of the word “clean” in relation to romance. It implies that anything that’s not “clean” is dirty, and that’s not cool. Sex does not equal dirty — not in books, not in real life.) Regardless of what you call them, in the end, there’s just one thing that remains true: they can get people talking.
“If I am captivated by a story, whether it’s clean, dirty, or utterly filthy is not important to me. I need the writing to be amazing, the characters to be so lovable I wish they were real, and I need the feels to be strong and plentiful.”
— Lori Rattay
How do I know this? I decided that, if I was going to write about chaste romance —and for simplicity’s sake, I will be referring to it only as chaste hereon, although I believe we can all agree that the heat level and the way it’s presented can still vary widely — I needed some outside opinions. And by outside, I mean outside of my brain, which is a terrifying place at times. So, on the advice of a good friend, I popped into a group on Facebook, Carol’s Crazy Bookish World, where I have seen lively, respectful, and interesting book chats in the past. There I posed a couple of questions:
What’s a chaste romance that you love? If you read chaste romance, what about it appeals to you?
You’ll find their recommendations, along with my own, below, but guys, I was so excited by their answers about what appeals to them. Not just because some of them agreed with me — although, yeah, I am self-aware enough to admit that being “right” is a good feeling — but because they were thoughtfully given. For many, chaste romance is something they don’t seek out. One member, Claire, said, “To be honest, if I read one, it’s a mistake. I don’t actively look for them,” but also went on to explain that, for her, a book has to have “some sustenance, so there needs to be a strong theme, or highly relatable characters” if there are no sex scenes. Which is, of course, totally understandable. One of the many arguments I have seen against chaste romance is that the lack of sex constitutes a lack of connection. And the need to connect with the characters, with the story, is a theme that was evident in all of the answers given. Another member, Christine, explained that while she also didn’t seek it out, she still read and enjoyed chaste books, and that for her, “the feeling of falling in love is what’s important in romance.”
So, does sex have to happen on the page to experience that wonderful, heartwarming feeling of falling in love? Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not. One commenter, Alison, said, “For me, heat is unnecessary when the story is well written . . . I have read books where [on-page sex] actually detracted from or felt forced into the story,” which raises the very valid point that even when present — and potentially plentiful — sex doesn’t automatically equal love. And as Carol (yes, the group’s titular Carol) said, “it’s the chemistry that matters, the pull they both feel to each other that keeps you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages.” I think, I hope, we can agree that chemistry comes in many forms, whether it’s the electricity of a first kiss, or the heat of seeking hands and gasping breaths and bodies pressed together, or the push-pull of witty banter that proves the protagonists to be equals. However it is presented, the fact is that, for many readers, chemistry is the vital component of building connections.
I know that, for me personally, the charm of a book lies in that feeling connection and it’s clear that I am not the only one. One comment that particularly spoke to me as I was mining Carol’s group members for their thoughts, was from a reader named Dawn. “If a story is well written,” she said, “the intimacy and love can be conveyed through words, actions, and tender touches. I don’t need to have a graphic or detailed sexual encounter on page to feel the passion, connection, or sexual chemistry between characters.” I certainly hope she never decides she wants my job, because I honestly don’t think I could’ve put it better. I love chaste romance for the very same reasons I love all well-written, well-plotted, well-paced romance books. Just like their spicier, steamier, sexier counterparts, these “sweeter” reads have the capacity to completely captivate a reader. To leave an indelible mark. To invoke all the feels. To conjure up smiles and a light-hearted feeling, which is invaluable on dark days.
Did I read Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center and find in Helen a relatable, lovable, brave heroine? I sure did! I can still remember reading that book — in paperback form, no less — and feeling absolutely stripped to my core in the best possible way. I wanted then, and still want now, to know Helen and Jake in real life, to call them friends. I have read a veritable parade of books written by Victoria James and later imagined myself a resident of the charming small towns she’s created, interacting with the characters as though I’m part of the fabric of the community and even envisioning myself as the woman who steals the heart of some likable secondary character while becoming best friends with all the rest. Does that make me a bit of an odd duck? Maybe.
But you know what? It also makes me a reader that seeks a connection to the characters and doesn’t need it in the form of sex to be satisfied. In the end, what it all boils down to is that chaste romance doesn’t deserve to be side-eyed, to be considered almost taboo in some circles, for the simple reason that its Flame Rating is a sweet one instead of a super spicy five. Because, whether you seek it out or read it only because you happen upon it, or avoid it like the plague, chaste romance should be judged not by the amount of hanky-panky on the page, but by the same standards to which we hold all of our beloved romance novels — the quality of the writing and the existence of a happily ever after.
“If a story is well written, the intimacy and love can be conveyed through words, actions, and tender touches. I don’t need to have a graphic or detailed sexual encounter on page to feel the passion, connection, or sexual chemistry between characters.”
— Dawn Cagstrick
Chaste Romance Recommendations
Below are three of my own all-time favorite chaste romances. These are books that I have read and loved more than once, and books I have happily (and possibly aggressively) recommended to other readers. In fact, a few months ago, Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare went on sale — it’s currently on sale again, FYI —and I took that opportunity to make it rain copies on my friends and family. All in all, I think I sent no fewer than eight copies — possibly more. (I’m a little too scared to check my purchase history for reasons relating to my one-click finger, which is as overactive as my imagination.) But the point isn’t actually how many I sent, rather the excited fervor with which I sent them. The absence of *wiggles eyebrows* on-the-page hanky-panky did nothing to curb my love for the story, and I all but begged my friends to love it as much as I did. Which, let me tell you, was a whole lot. Tiffy and Leon, through the notes they left one another in the flat they shared but didn’t live in together, brought me into their world, their story, and made me fall in love. *Sigh*
As I mentioned above, the members of Carol’s Crazy Bookish World not only shared their thoughts on chaste romance but also their book recommendations. Here are just some of the amazing chaste/closed door/fade-to-black romances they shared. If you’d like to join this group and engage in interesting, funny, and supportive romance and real life chats, you can request to join HERE.
“There was still some sexual tension, and I think it’s important when it’s about adults because, let’s face it, they feel desire! But there was never anything explicit. And I loved it because it touched me.”
“The feeling of falling in love is what’s important in romance. Here’s my favorite clean read that I recommend if someone asks . . . standalone but part of a series. ”
“When I think about chaste romance, my mind always goes to Jane Austen and her marvelous way of writing romance with those hints that makes your fantasy run wild.”
“What attracted me to [Melissa McClone’s] books was that they always played out in my head like a Hallmark movie. She has a beautiful style of writing.”
“This one was for Hallmark so no steamy times. And honestly, I didn’t miss it. The setting was beautiful, the connection between the characters was strong, and I loved the hero and heroine.”
“I’m a heat skipper, so chaste romances are perfect for me . . . For me, heat is unnecessary when the story is well written.”
“It’s a book I tell everyone to read! Actually – I just ordered the PB – I think it’s time my daughter read it – she’s 15 now and it will make for perfect summer reading.”
“It is not really the full out romance that is my everyday read. This story is women’s fiction with a bit of romance. It is sweet and heartwarming and full of hope.”
“This story engaged my mind, heart and soul. Not only was I touched as a reader, but I knew each one of these characters left a handprint on the hearts of the others.”
“I need the writing to be amazing, the characters to be so lovable I wish they were real, and I need the feels to be strong and plentiful.”
*Roisin recommended this book, calling it “incredible,” but she also said, “I remember I was so disappointed that there wasn’t an actual sex scene in it as I felt it was an important part of the journey for the main characters,” so please keep that in mind when reading!
Beth Cranford was born and raised in Australia, but followed her heart (and her husband) to the United States in her late 20s. As the mother of two kids, she’s learned that you can turn anything into a song and that slime does not belong in carpeted areas (or polite society). You can most often find her with her Kindle in hand, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat, or spending way too many hours playing Animal Crossing.
Follow her @BethCranford on B+M Bites.
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