Friday, February 13, 2015

50 Shades Readalikes Project: A Recap

In 2013, I set myself the task of reviewing readalike suggestions for the Fifty Shades trilogy by E.L. James with the idea of coming up with some kind of consensus on what the best books to recommend to patrons might be, depending on their interests. After perusing articles, blog posts, pinboards, and lists by librarians and others, reading and reviewing double-digit books, and sitting on this information while it slowly digested like that creature in Return of the Jedi, I am here to share the results of a project I ceased updating more than a year ago.

Given the imminent release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie and the announcement that the sequels will also be filmed, patrons are bound to return to the library for the books. As a result, they may also be casting around for similar reads, especially when it turns out all the E.L. James books are missing from the shelf. There are no doubt books that have been published in 2014 and early 2015 that also fit the description of "Fifty Shades readalike," but, as this project left me suffering from Erotic Romance Exhaustion (check your DSM-V), I haven't read them. Nevertheless, I hope that this wrap-up will help librarians think about the cycle of popular books and their readalikes--panic about which is highest at the peak of an item's popularity--as well as offering some go-to titles when constructing displays.


Appropriately, I ended up with fifty different sources by searching online for "readalikes" and "if you liked/loved Fifty Shades," etc. I began by giving an author/work combination one point (in my fantastic Excel spreadsheet) for every mention in a source. After a while, it became clear that some series were being recommended repeatedly, so I combined all mentions of a single book in a series and the entire series. The total number of books/series recommended as readalikes was 373, but 223 (about 60%) of were mentioned only once.

To give an idea of the variety of single-mention books, they included:

The Notorious Rake, Mary Balogh
Forever..., Judy Blume
A Lick of Frost, Laurell K. Hamilton
Submitting to the Boss, Jasmine Haynes
Lolita, Nabokov
The Witness, Nora Roberts
The Dying Animal, Philip Roth
Aftermath, Zane

The sheer volume of suggestions offered--come on, Philip Roth?--gives an idea of how desperately bloggers, librarians, and industry experts were grasping at straws to find something else to give a theoretical population of enthusiastic Fifty Shades readers looking for readalikes. For the purposes of this project, I focused on books and series that were mentioned six or more times among the various sources.

Top Readalikes for 50 Shades [in 2013]:

The title and author are followed by the number of mentions. Hyperlinked titles are titles or series in which I have read and reviewed at least one book.

Crossfire series (Bared to You, Reflected in You, Entwined with You, Captivated by You, One with You), Sylvia Day (31)
Sleeping Beauty series, Anne Rice (26)
Sweet series, Maya Banks (18)
Wicked Lovers series, Shayla Black (16)
Kushiel series, Jacqueline Carey (14)
Dirty, Megan Hart (14) [DNF]
Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas (13)
Gabriel's Inferno, Sylvain Reynard (12)
Broken, Megan Hart (11)
Nature of Desire series, Joey W. Hill (10) [read one but didn't review]
Beautiful Disaster, Jamie McGuire (10)
Masters of the Shadowlands series, Cherise Sinclair (9)
Vampire Queen series, Joey W. Hill (8)
Bound Hearts series, Lora Leigh (8)
The Story of O, Pauline Reage (8)
Play-by-Play series, Jaci Burton (7) [read but didn't review]
Liberating Lacey, Anne Calhoun (7)
The Edge of Impropriety, Pam Rosenthal (7)
Black Dagger Brotherhood series, J.R. Ward (7)
Wild Riders series, Jaci Burton (6)
Too Much Temptation, Lori Foster (6)
Rough Riders series, Lorelei James (6)
Nauti series, Lora Leigh (6)
In the Cut, Susannah Moore (6)
The Siren, Tiffany Reisz (6)
The Lady's Tutor, Robin Schone (6)
House of Rohan series, Anne Stuart (6)

Additional titles reviewed:
The Librarian, by Logan Belle
The Dark Garden, by Eden Bradley
Beautiful Bastard and the rest of the Beautiful series by Christina Lauren

Even these most popular suggestions were all over the map in terms of tone, theme, "hotness," setting, and date of publication. Some, like The Story of O, are considered classic works. Some are e-originals that may or may not have been put into print. In my reviews, I tried to place each readalike suggestion in terms of the 50 Shades trilogy. I also found a few new favorites that I would be comfortable handing to almost anyone looking for sure-bet romances, such as Sweet Talking Stranger and Christina Lauren's Beautiful series.

Appeal Factors for the 50 Shades Trilogy
  • Romantic redemption
  • Alternative--“kinky”--sexual practices
  • Dominant male hero
  • Lifestyles of the rich and famous
  • Wounded twentysomething characters
  • Virginal heroine awakened
  • Explicit descriptions of sex
  • Writing—inner monologue, first-person perspective
  • Fanfiction origin
  • Epistolary communication
  • “Everyone else is reading it”
The wide range of appeal factors in Fifty Shades of Grey means that there are several different kinds of books that a patron might be looking for. Many past, current, and future romance novels will fit several of these descriptors, and there will also usually be a given Book of the Moment that fits the "everyone else is reading it so I want to read it" criteria, such as Gone Girl or, more recently, The Girl on the Train. Fifty Shades of Grey fell in to this category for a lot of readers. Books like these inspire the most panic among librarians, because their popularity is their primary appeal, but ideally there was a reading population that picked up the James book and discovered the allure of erotic romance as a subgenre. Those are the people who might come back for readalikes.


I created a readalike handout for a presentation to the New York Library Assocation--Public Libraries Section and have since added links to my reviews on this site. These books are scored 1 to 10 in terms of their readalike potential and their explicit erotic content, both of which are important to keep in mind when making suggestions to library patrons. Feel free to use the handout with attribution.

2015, the Movie, and Beyond

With the advent of the movie upon us, a new set of posts recommending books to read after Fifty Shades of Grey have emerged:

Some of the authors listed I also encountered in my search two years ago, but the books are largely different. Publishing, and by extension reader's advisory, is a moving target. A project like the one I've discussed here takes an immense amount of time, and the results are ephemeral. Librarians can't possibly find the time to read everything that is being published in a subgenre like erotic romance, let alone all new and forthcoming fiction and nonfiction. Give up right now on the idea of reading everything and use the tools available: review blogs, articles, NoveList, Twitter librarians, and your own good sense. It's good to read the benchmark or hotspot books in a genre, which I'd argue Fifty Shades has ended up being, but for everything else there's How to Read a Book in Five Minutes

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Helga Recommends: Patricia Veryan

My mother was a great fan of historical romance, and I happily followed her lead. There's pretty much nothing I'd rather read than a good historical--one with the right mix of historical detail and relationship-building. Ideally, a book that reflects the author's interest in and research about the historical period and not one riddled with obvious anachronisms and modern characters transposed onto historical settings. The less said about those, the better.

Let me get to the point. If you like Georgette Heyer's historical romances, you should try Patricia Veryan. If you like historical romance with elements of swashbuckling adventure (à la Scarlet Pimpernel), you should read Patricia Veryan. If you enjoy historical romances with characters that pop up in multiple books, especially series that end with rogues becoming heroes, Veryan could be a good fit for you as well. I am a Heyer fan, but I'm a Veryan fanatic. Every time I visit a new library, I go to the Vs in the fiction section to see how that library's collection measures up.* As you can see from the picture below, I am deadly earnest about this recommendation.

My personal collection includes my mother's copies as well,
hence the stack of duplicates on the right. 
From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, Veryan published more than thirty historical romances set in the Georgian and Regency periods. Most of her books are connected to four different series: the Golden Chronicles (set in 1746 in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion); the Tales of the Jewelled Men (featuring several characters from the Golden Chronicles); and the Regency-era Sanguinet Saga and Riddle series.

Why Do I Love Them?

This was surprisingly hard to quantify. To me, Veryan's books are a perfect blend of humor, romance, action, adventure, swashbuckling, and period detail. Perhaps it's because there are always interesting and life-threatening situations that put the hero and heroine in relief? There are very few books that I re-read, but these are on top of my list. I would be perfectly fine stranded on a desert island with only Veryan series and Oreos to sustain me. In short: my literary catnip.

This scene is from The Tyrant (which I was just re-reading the other day), in which the hero and heroine become engaged to hide the fact that they were aiding a fugitive. They hope to extricate themselves from the engagement once the danger is past, but in the meantime:
Carruthers swooped down and planted a kiss on her cheek.
She jumped back, saying indignantly, "I thought it was agreed there was to be none of that!"
He shook his head at her. "You'd make a poor spy, Miss Ramsay. You seem quite incapable of understanding that this is a most deadly predicament you have got me into."
"Of course I understand, but--"
"It is of vital import that we keep up the pretence if we are to come out of this alive."
She glanced around. "Certainly. But there is no one here to--"
"One of the first things I learned in my military career," he said gravely, "was that one does not fail to post sentries merely because there is no sign of the enemy."
Phoebe regarded him suspiciously, then started up the stairs. She halted on the third step and looked back. He stood there, watching her. She fancied to detect a quickly suppressed grin, but then he said "I believe we have taken sufficient precautions for tonight, ma'am. Mustn't overdo it." (68) 
Like Heyer's, Veryan's books are also "green light" reads--there are only a few (very tasteful) sex scenes to be found throughout the series. Perfect for when you've got an elderly lady at your reference desk who doesn't like those "modern" romances.

Where Do I Start?

If you're looking for a one-shot, test-the-waters book, try The Wagered Widow, Married Past Redemption, or Some Brief Folly. Both Practice to Deceive and Time's Fool are good series openers, although they aren't my favorite books in their respective series. Love Alters Not is another fun book, if you don't care about jumping in to the middle of a series.

Several of my personal favorites (Sanguinet's Crown and The Mandarin of Mayfair top this long list) are many books into a series and should be read as a culmination of plots from the preceding books.

Books to avoid unless you become a die-hard fan: The Lord and the Gypsy, The Mistress of Willowvale, Give All to Love. The Riddle series was her last, and I haven't re-read it multiple times like I have the other three.

Unfortunately, Veryan's books are very hard to find. Her last new book was published in 2002. They are not easily found in used bookstores--trust me, I check every time, even though I own all but a few of them. Georgette Heyer's books have recently been reissued in lovely trade editions. Let's hope for the same for Veryan's work in the near future. In the meantime, check your local library.

Other things I've recommended:
Paper Books

*My own library does very well, with 16 Veryan titles on the shelf. I check them out regularly to make sure they don't get weeded.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What is #librarylife?

Once upon a time, there was a project called Library Day in the Life. Between 2008 to 2012, it was a semi-annual event coordinated by Bobbi Newman in which librarians from all kinds of libraries shared glimpses of their work life through Twitter and other platforms. And it was fun! My Library Day in the Life posts are here. Newman decided to shut down the project, but some of us still want to share what we're doing at work. I've written in this space about why I think it's important to share my work as a librarian.

Many people already participate in and follow the #saturdaylibrarian and #sundaylibrarian hashtags on Twitter, but what about the rest of the week? That's where #librarylife comes in. It's a hashtag that lets users share a little bit about what they're doing at work for the purposes of fostering community between librarians from many different kinds of libraries. As with the weekend tags, it's a good way to find out what other people are doing--and useful for finding new librarians to follow.

So, when you're on Twitter recounting your storytime success, listing some of the things that you never learned in library school, talking about the interactions you're having with patrons (good and bad), or just contemplating how much you love the sweet, sweet sound of microfilm rewinding, try tagging it with #librarylife!