Opinion & Giveaway – Sneaking Mom’s Books

I was on twitter a few weeks ago, which I know really doesn’t surprise any of you, when someone in my tweet stream mentioned being happy that Amazon had rolled out parental controls on the Kindle Fire so she no longer had to worry about her daughter reading her books. I am in no position to tell a parent what to allow or not allow their child to read but when I read that my first thought was that would have seriously messed up my introduction to adult romance. In other words, this could change the romance readers of the future.

I remember sneaking into my parents’ room and stealthily looking at a book on their headboard cubby that showed a man and woman in a clinchA Rose in Winter. I decided that since my Mom was due back home soon I would try to read it later and instead headed to the patio to browse their bookshelves there. I found a copy of The BrideThe Bride cover image and promptly started reading it. I was not old enough to understand all of the language and the context but I understood the humor, suspense, emotion, and decided this was a very good thing. So the next chance I had I went back and read A Rose in Winter. They were my gateway into adult romance and to this day remain well read favorites. I am not the only person who discovered adult romance in that fashion. Over the years I have talked to several other people, whose introduction to romance came from reading mom’s, grandmother’s, aunt’s, or elder sister’s books. All of us were younger than the “suggested” reading age so contextual understanding came later and we all were sneaking the not quite forbidden. They were not quite forbidden because we knew better than to ask for permission.

Remembering my introduction, I started to wonder what could/would have been different about my addiction to romance without the ability to sneak my mom’s print books. Would I have discovered romance? If I did, would I have started with historicals or an entirely different genre? How old would I have been? I was already reading SF/F so would I have given romance a chance at a later age? In today’s digital world sneaking a handheld reading device or phone might have been a bit more difficult than one of many print books. If I did have access to the device, parental controls would have required more finagling on my part. Yes, I can think of potential work-arounds but would I have had the motivation/curiosity without the first glance at a different looking book cover? On the other hand, would I have been so curious about what I was NOT supposed to read that I would have tried everything to get access?

Today I can look back and smile at those adventures and how they changed my reading for life. How will the next batch of romance readers get their start? Will they travel from books marketed at the Young Adult (YA) to New Adult (NA) to Adult or will they figure out how to make the leap to adult romance then expand in all directions from there?

What are your stories about your introduction to adult romance? If you have considered how to grow a romance reader in our digital age, what are your thoughts? I am going to give one of the commentators a $16 Amazon or BN gift card as thanks for sharing your answers. I will announce the winner on Wed the 15th. Good luck!

60 thoughts on “Opinion & Giveaway – Sneaking Mom’s Books”

  1. Heh. I’m the one who was thrilled with parental controls…mainly because what I read is what I write…erotic romance, mainly BDSM! While I’m quite open with her about sex, at just-barely-a-teen, I’m not sure she has the maturity to deal with ménages and canings for pleasure. (That’s just my kid. Your mileage may vary.) That being said, I don’t hide any of my category romances. They’re all out on the bookshelves. If she chooses to pick one up, I’m good with that. I did. Most of what’s on my out-in-the-open shelf is paranormal romance and romantic suspense, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I find her sneaking one or two of those. 🙂

    I think I was maybe 14 or 15 when I read my mom’s copy of “Tears of Gold.” I don’t remember much about it, except I *do* remember that illicit feeling, LOL! I also remember another book that was WILD, but damned if I can remember the name. I tried to ask Mom about it when we had the Twitter chat, but she doesn’t remember it (Suuuuuure! 😉 ) and I looked all over for it.

    I can’t wait to read other people’s stories! 🙂

  2. Thanks for commenting. Well I wasn’t going to put anyone’s name out there to blame for my inspiration 🙂 and I am not telling anyone how to parent their children. I really hope Mom doesn’t decide to visit the blog today because well lets just say that I also found Dad’s stash… and discovered that Anonymous does not have an author image anywhere *whistles*. I also think that Mom’s experience selective amnesia because mine claims I introduced her to romance. I did discover erotic romance on my own through the glorious Friends of the Library semi-annual book sales *must donate to them before I move*. I still haven’t introduced any of those to my Mom *grin*.

  3. I was introduced to adult romance all on my own by the age of 17 I guess..I’m just 20 now so its not that long ago. But I get all my reading genes from my mother so I remember when I was in my young adult phase my mother would tell me why aren’t you reading any Mills and Boons yet? and I always used to say these are better 🙂 But one day we did get my mother’s stack of books out and it ranged from mystery’s to love stories. I was never in my life banned from not reading anything so I don’t really know how that feels. My mum has been nice enough to let me read whatever I want always 🙂

  4. Well. My mother also kept her more typical romances out on the living room shelf, not that she had many, but then my grandmother (her ex mother in law) visited. Oh boy.

    She spent the entire weeks making snide comments about “those kind of books” and “should those be near the children” and “romance books weaken your character”. As a precocious 10 year old, I immediately decided I *must* read “those sorts of books”.

    So I snuck into my mothers room where I knew she kept some books at the top of her closet, and grabbed a couple of those. The more hidden the better, right? I read Flowers in the Attic and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, thinking they were the romance books my grandmother was so mean about. Basically, it gave me a horribly skewed idea of what romance was until well into my 20s.

  5. “I really hope Mom doesn’t decide to visit the blog today…”

    Pretty funny because I’ve just sent the link to my mom! She is a highly educated, incredibly intelligent attorney who has never had any shame about loving romance novels – the steamier, the better! When I was a kid our post office had a free book swap shelf. Because she only ever had a few minutes mid-errand, she grabbed the ones with the most dramatic covers and always had one or two knocking around in the front seat of the car. She’s a speed reader so she liked having something to read if she got stuck waiting in the school pick-up line.

    She was so unfazed by my reading them that I don’t even remember the first one – although I clearly recall reading “Lion of Ireland” by Morgan Llywelyn (not strictly romance but with a hefty dose of sexy times) at age 10 or 11. She always encouraged me to be a bold, precocious reader, and I credit her not only with my two English degrees as a result, but with my unapologetic passion for – and forthcoming contributions to! – the romance genre.

  6. She just doesn’t need to know that I found Dad’s stash otherwise she is fully aware. :). I hope your Mom enjoys this post.

  7. Lol, sometimes forbidding or making something blatantly inappropriate it becomes a MUST discover exactly what was so wrong with it. Flowers in the Attic scarred me too.

  8. I can’t remember my first romance, but I know I started “borrowing” my mother’s category romances when I was 10-ish. I loved Harlequin Presents and Silhouette Desires because they were racier than the Romance lines. I remember discovering Linda Lael Miller and Elizabeth Lowell, who both seemed to push the heat envelope. I probably started reading erotic romance with the advent of Susan Johson, Robin Schone, and Beatrice Small in the early 1990s (and by this point I was over 18).

    How to grow a romance reader these days? Great question. I think my own experiences skew my thoughts a bit because I might’ve been a wee bit precocious in terms of my inquisitiveness about intimate matters. I was very deliberate about wanting to read books that my parents would’ve thought inappropriate. 🙂 That said, I can understand wanting to set parental controls for erotic content. I don’t let most adults see my ereader without a warning about what they might see – and I’ve scared quite a few people. I certainly wouldn’t want my nieces or nephews anywhere near it.

    When was Flowers in the Attic first released? I definitely read that when it was out – and was both fascinated and horrified.

  9. My sister was 8 years older than me so I always wanted to read everything she did, which worked fine while she was reading Nancy Drew mysteries, and the very tame romance of Victoria Holt. But, when I was 13, Woodiwiss’s “Shana” came out and I remember my sister picking it up in the bookstore and immediately telling me I was too young to read it. Naturally, that book stuck with me and I knew I had to read it. My mom didn’t read a lot of romances so there wasn’t much in the house to choose from that wasn’t strictly approved, and unfortunately, my sister was only visiting at the time and took the book home with her, so it was a couple years before I found it again without adult supervision. I’ve never looked back since on reading romances.

  10. I was introduced to romance by reading my mom’s and sister-in-law’s books. I was always an avid reader and would pick up their books to read. I was hooked after reading Kathleen Woodiwiss. 🙂

  11. Well, my first foray into the adult book world was “Jurassic Park”. *shrug* I wanted to see the movie as a youngster, and my parents said You can see it if you read the book. Hah! Done! (I recall the book being somewhat more violent than the actual movie itself). Then I went on try Clancy, Coonts, Grisham, Pat Conroy etc. My folks don’t read romance, I discovered that on my own at 14 when I picked up Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander – (some eyebrow raising goings on in that book – and I remember it made me cry – but otherwise, not scarred for life) which then lead me to try Nora Roberts, Candace Camp, Julie Garwood.. but they never tried to put the kabosh on anything that I read, and they never disparaged my reading choices as a young teen, so I grew up thinking that romance was a fantastic genre and it’s still my book of choice today, almost 20 years later 🙂

    I don’t have children.. but having parents that encourage and egg on your reading habit was a good thing in my household, so I’d like to think that I’d do the same for a child of my own. 🙂

  12. I think I was 9 when I realized my mom’s Flowers in the Attic series was being read by my older sisters. We considered it a rite of passage to have access to them because my Mom’s books are the Golden Holy Grail. Thy shalt not bend the binding. Thou shalt not tag the pages or the covers. And thou dang well better shalt not have crap on your fingers when turning the pages. She’s had some of her books for longer than I’ve been alive and they look better than new ones at the bookstore. (In fact, all of us are that way about our books. My niece is being broken in now to the ways we show respect to our books, lol).

    Anyway, I have a heck of a lot of sisters.

    I watched longingly as one by one, they were allowed to read the series. And how they all had this knowing look between them when they discussed them. (One didn’t even like them, or “romance”, but she read and damn was she smug) I think I was 10 or so when Mom could no longer hold me back. This was somewhere after she found out my sisters were trading their library cards for me doing their chores and she introduced me to her other precious novels–Jacqueline Suzanne’s “Yargo” (but not Valley of the Dolls, she had rules, lol) oh and “The Mirror” and “The Artist’s Daughter” and the biggie, “Whispers” by Dean Koontz. In one shelf, I discovered intrigue, backstabbing, incest, murder, roaches, evil-twins, space-adventure, time travel and historical. All of it related to Romance. Mom knew for sure she had a “READER” in me. She let me get a big girl’s library card and I was gone.

    Hello Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Ian Fleming, and every Harlequin printed from 1982 on. Then, oh sweet lord, THEN I found the used bookstore halfway to the library. I went there for the next 20 years and still visit when I get back home. 😀

    Now, my daughters are precocious and a half, and my niece is a reader in the making, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on age appropriate materials. Or at least, maturity appropriate. I measure my kids against the content because I despised being trapped in a kid box when I was mentally in need of more challenging stories that made more sense to me. Same way some kids can’t handle the death-for-sport in Hunger Games, some other kids are younger when they can manage dogs with rabies trapping an adulteress woman and her son in a car for days on end. But the day I catch them with my HQs and I think they’re ready…yeah, I’ll pretend I didn’t see anything. Everybody deserves that illicit feeling, no matter when it comes.

  13. I was in fourth grade when I read my first romance. I had a book report due, no unread childrens books in the house, so I grabbed one of my mom’s. I think it was a Silhouette. It had a purple cover and was set at a sheep farm in Australia. A week later, my mom had to meet with my teacher to discuss the inappropriateness of my reading choices. After that I was bumped back to Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew for a while.

    That summer, my dad had to have emergency bypass surgery. During the 16 hour surgery, I wandered the hospital and found a HUGE used book sale set up by the volunteers and most of the books were romance. Novels were a quarter, categories a dime. I stocked up. The first one I read was The Bride and that was it for me. Total love. I spent the next 2 months at that hospital, glomming romance. I can’t imagine what that summer would have been like for me without those romances.

    I only have sons and they haven’t expressed the tiniest interest in romance but if they do, I plan to start them out with categories. (Yes, I already have a romance plan for my children *g*)

  14. I am loving the parent teacher discussion. Sorry to hear about the need for your father’s surgery but books in hospitals are absolutely wonderful! I am glad you had a happy way to leave the worry, hospital smell, and blah colors behind while you were waiting. And yes, boys need romance too *grin*.

  15. Love it! Mom’s books as a rite of passage oh that along with her Commandments are priceless. What a wonderful memory to have and share with your sisters. Good luck with your daughters and niece.

  16. The book was a lot more violent! I remember going back and trying to figure out how many people were killed/eaten when and where. I am glad you had parents who encouraged you to read. I think it makes a huge difference.

  17. Do you remember which Woodiwiss? She has a special place in my book loving heart.

  18. Shanna oh man! I remember reading that for the first time. Putting it down and having to go back to re-read it again. It was another one that I just knew my Mom would have raised an eyebrow at my reading it given how old I was at that time. *grin*

  19. Old Linda Lael Miller certainly brought the heat. I didn’t find Elizabeth Lowell until later. I think I spent my entire time reading Beatrice Small books looking like O_O over what she had written. And even with my shock I remained hooked. Sometimes I don’t think a warning is enough because they really “don’t know”. It looks like Flowers in the Attic was first released in 1979. I didn’t find it until several years later but I do remember her books being stocked in what we would call the Young Adult area now. I remember being puzzled about that after I read it because it didn’t fit with Robin McKinley or the other fantasyish stories I was reading that were shelved in the same vicinity.

  20. I started reading romances at the age of 13. My aunt gave me my first romance book. I have since borrowed a lot of books from her and let her borrow some of mine. I can’t remember the author of the book, but the title was My Angel. That book got me reading all kinds of romances. Some of my favorites are Johanna Lindsey, Elizabeth Lowell, and Catherine Coulter.

  21. I wasn’t at all a reader growing up, and neither was anyone in our home. I loved to be told stories, but reading? For pleasure? Ugh, no, thanks.
    Until my Aunt sent me a box packed to over flowing with romance novels all the way from her home in Florida.
    I wasn’t interested.
    Not at all.
    But, you know. She went to all the trouble.
    I loved her dearly.
    I should put in a little effort, I told myself.
    I skimmed.
    A love scene caught my eye, and I lingered.
    Went back to the beginning in case I missed something.
    I read the whole book, sunlight filtering in through my purple curtains when I closed the novel.
    I was bemused.
    I was horrified.
    I’d loved it.
    I’ve been a reader ever since.

  22. wow… what a very interesting post. You’re absolutely right. My “gateway” to romance were my grandmother’s books that I used to sneak and then the romance novels that I used to read at the library to get around my mom. I probably wouldn’t have read them at age 13… which like you said is younger than most people would care for but it opened me up to a love of reading. I think that it also allowed me to become more tolerant and curious of other genres. If I hadn’t had been able to sneak the print books, I wouldn’t have started reading until I was in my 20’s and had moved out of my mom’s uber religious household. I don’t think I would have had as great and memorable a reading experience then as I had when I was a teen. So it will be interesting to see how this “electronic” generation manages to do it. I still have print and probably always will along with my kindle so my future kids could still have the same experience. Except, I might be more tolerant and helpful than my parents 🙂

  23. Mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten. I read Hamilton’s Greek myths and enjoyed the suggestion of naughtiness in the continuous god/goddess-human interactions. But my first real romance Mom put in my hands right after she explained the facts of life to me…my menarche was at age 9, so I was always precocious…it was E.M Hull’s “The Sheik”…followed by “The Sons of The Sheik”. Wow! An independent woman, foreign men, being kidnapped and forced to submit…I was hooked! Mom used to trade books by the bagful with her sisters, and she’d let me read any of them I wanted to. She’d drop-kick the ones that didn’t have any sex across the room and swear off that writer.

    When I was in middle school, I read, in one sitting, “The Godfather”. I remember being irritated that the sex scenes were so unembellished and truncated. It was my first introduction to the fact that to men it’s just a bodily function, done to prove power over women, or just for kicks. Whereas for women in romance, it’s a life-changing event.

    Since I write romance, you can tell which viewpoint I embraced, eventually…

  24. The first romance book I read was when I hiding in the library. My parents believe in arranged marriage. They and I don’t never have that talk about relationship. My parents were never affectionate in front of my sisters and I. While all my friends were talking about sex and relationship, I was too embarrassed to ask about it since I knew nothing. It was the only form of learning about relationship and sex when I was going up.

  25. That was a fun Twitter conversation!
    I also “borrowed” books from my parents’ bookshelf, all kinds of books. But I’ll never forget my gateway-into-romance novel. I was shocked. Confused. Totally intrigued. It took some digging to remember the title — The Insiders by Rosemary Rogers. This book has it all — lesbian sex, anal sex, dubious consent, gang-bang sex, and of course, a happily ever after. And I was twelve when I got my hands on it. Twelve! Quite the education, that. 😉 (Go look it up on Goodreads. The play-by-play reviews are awesome.)
    Guess I can thank my mother for my career as an erotic romance author, right? That’s what I keep telling her, anyway. 🙂

    I have an 11-year-old daughter who loves to read. She inhales books…but only if they’re romance. Thank goodness for the awesome selection of YA books on the market today, and for the amazing online communities where I can research the content and maturity level of books before I give them to her. 🙂

  26. I can see the upside for parental controls on Kindles. I read a lot of explicit romances (including erotic romances) so I like being able to block my young nieces and nephews from accidently coming across something like this when they are not old enough. I did read romances at probably what many would consider too young (started with a few of my aunts books when I was about 10, then on to VC Andrews books throughout my teens. Then I got away from romance until a few years back. I think it depends on the book and the reader what stories are appropriate.

  27. A friend of my mother’s gave her a box of books. She let me at them. I don’t think she read any. Included in there were Sweet Savage Love and also Wicked Loving Lies by Rosemary Rogers, Gypsy Lady by Shirlee Busbee and various other books, many of which had totally rapetastic heroes. I was about 12 I think. I had no idea that Steve was raping Ginny all the time – my concept of what was going on was not mature enough and I was fairly innocent back then.

    My son isn’t really all that interested in “romance” (too girly) so I don’t have to worry too much. It hasn’t occurred to him to look up the kindle app on the iPad and read something racy. He’s too busy watching Minecraft videos. LOL

  28. I started reading romance too young too I suppose, but I have been a voracious reader ever since I learned how, and my small local library just did not have enough childrens books for me to read, so one day I just went into the adult section. I think I started with Jean Plaidy, and that made me read historical romances. I used my moms’ library card and those of my younger sisters too, and hauled bags full of books out of there as often as possible.
    I do have a stepdaughter now, she is 14, and I am very careful of what I allow her to read. Perhaps too careful, as I really enjoyed reading those romances at a much younger age.

  29. As a teen, I found my mom’s Harlequin stash. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read/watch those types of stories or anything do to with paranormal/fantasy/magic – not even Disney. So of course, it just made me crave them more & now I write in those genres.
    Some kids will find a way around controls/rules.
    Outside of erotica, etc. I think it’s best to know what my kids are reading rather than them hide it 🙂 and me be oblivious.

  30. I’d say it was pride and prejudice. Think digital allows more people to read books and introduces readers to new types of books and authors

  31. @Amy S.: I think one of the best parts about growing up around other readers is being able to trade books back and forth especially with the one who introduced a genre to you.

  32. @erinf1: I am glad you found this interesting. And I agree it will be fascinating to see how the changes in technology change or don’t change that introduction. I also think that sometimes there is an advantage to reading a genre before you are exposed to negative opinions about that genre.

  33. @Fiona McGier: Your Mom sounds like a wonderful woman! I love how she judged books by their content *grin.* Yes, there seems to be a very distinct difference between sex scenes written/directed etc by a man vs a woman. I have noticed over time that difference is narrowing in some of the genres.

  34. @Kai W.: Books provide us with so much more than words on a page or a screen. They are a great way to explore beyond our front doors.

  35. @Karla Doyle: I had a lot of fun in that conversation and you know I am totally going to have to read the reviews now. Good luck with your daughter and I am glad she loves reading :).

  36. @June M.: I agree and when my niece and nephew are old enough for me to borrow them I will probably be the same. Until they get a bit older *grin*

  37. @aurian: *grin* I have very fond memories of hours spend in the local library. Great places to sit and read and then the haul to take home :).

  38. @Andrea R. Cooper: I didn’t want everything forbidden but I did need a good reason for the forbidding lol. If I ever have kids I would want to know what they are reading and what questions they have.

  39. @bn100: That is a classic introduction in more ways than one I think. I agree digital can introduce people to a wider range just maybe at an older age.

  40. Interesting, from a parent’s point of view there might be certain erotic books I wouldn’t want my daughter to read too young. But I am with you, I snuck one of my aunts Historical Romances when I was young and that hooked me on romance. I already loved sci-fi/fantasy, but there is just something about a good boddice ripper….*sigh*
    My world would certainly have been different if I hadn’t gotten my little paws on one of these treasures.

  41. My mother read Harlequins so I borrowed them and I remember liking the emotion of those stories. As my daughter was growing up I always had romances around but I can see how people would want to keep some of their books out of their children’s hands.

  42. I started by reading my older sisters romance books. She was heavily into hospital romances I remember. I branched out pretty quickly.

  43. I started reading my mom’s silhouette romances when I was 10 or 11. She kept all her read romances behind the sofa in bags. I would sit back there or hours reading. Thought I was pretty sneaky even with her in the room. She kept her sexier book in her bedroom, which I found at 12. She let me read a few, but told me I couldn’t read Princess Daisy until I was 21. Went through a major historical romance kick in high school thanks to my aunt and cousins.

  44. I think transitioning from YA to NA to Adult is a good method for attracting the next generation of romance readers. An example that comes to mind is Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series. Gyale Forman’s duology transitions from YA in If I Stay to NA in Where She Went. If Sarah Dessen wrote NA, she would definitely attract her YA readers. Authors who write both YA and Adult romances, such as Jennifer Echols, naturally have crossover appeal.

  45. I started reading romance around 26 years ago when I was around 12. My older sister was staying with an Aunt for the summer and I was having to sleep by myself. I was scared to sleep in the room alone and would read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I read comic books and sweet valley books but as summer went on I got tired of reading the same old thing. One night I got up and looked around the house for something to read. My parents had went to a yard sale that day and picked up a large box of books to give to another Aunt. I picked up one of those books and that was the beginning of my love affair with romance book. I don’t recall the title but I remember that it was published by Zebra and had one of their decals in the upper right corner. It might have been a Penelope Neri book but sadly I am not sure.

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