I received an e-mail from a librarian this week regarding a review in this here publication, Kirkus Reviews. The e-mail read:

Hi Sarah,

I just finished what purports to be a review of Mary Balogh's The Proposal and was completely offended. For starters, the review is merely a plot summary. I could live with that laziness, if the author hadn't concluded with the following:

"Balogh contravenes the conventions of historical romance by introducing an ingredient the genre is not always known for: intelligence."

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This complete dismissal of a genre and a lack of respect for its readers is appalling. As a defender of the romance genre and a contributor to Kirkus, I wanted to make sure you were aware of this slur on the genre.

Thanks for letting me vent—I will be in touch with Kirkus editors as well.


Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books summer recommendations for romances under $5.

Let's look at that review again:

"Balogh contravenes the conventions of historical romance by introducing an ingredient the genre is not always known for: intelligence."

How nice for Balogh, who is a marvelous author. How absolutely insulting to every other author of historical romance, and every reader who enjoys it.

My reaction to the reviewer: bite me. Clearly you don't know dick all about romance as a genre, as you'd be aware that there are more books written with and by those possessing ample intelligence than I have room to name here. As soon as I find out your name, I'll be sure to put exactly the right amount of confidence in your future reviews, which would be exactly none. You've insulted us most thoroughly and now can have nothing more to say.

My reaction to the publisher and editor: REALLY, KIRKUS?! REALLY?!

Look, let me explain a few things here. There are passing few publications that review books anymore, as I'm sure you've noticed. There are even fewer in print that review romance, and Kirkus rarely does. So when Kirkus does review a romance, this is the attitude and condescension? This is the best you can do?

I'm aware that Kirkus doesn't review romance in print more than occasionally, and that this column online is about the only place where romance is discussed in depth for this publication. I'm also aware of some very hardworking people who are trying to build a romance section online because there is much of value to discuss in the genre, and many, many readers who would welcome an additional review location from which they might draw some purchasing recommendations. There are a lot of romances published each month, and not nearly enough ways to find the best books to read within the genre.

When you print reviews like this one, which laud one book at the expense of every other historical romance, you do two things.

One: You alienate librarians like Maureen and you piss off readers like me, because that reviewer is factually incorrect, and moreover, being a condescending asshole.

Two: You demonstrate to your own detriment as a publication that you don't know anything about romance as a genre. You marginalize yourself by revealing how little you understand the strengths of historical romance as a genre, and revealing your stunning ignorance of those writers possessing exceptional skill and intellect. You praise one book by slapping every other historical romance, and by extension every historical romance author and reader. Well done.

Please, either ask reviewers who know the genre to build a print review section for romance, or please, just don't touch it at all.

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.