BookMatcher: Romance Without Sex Scenes

The BookMatcher is Billie Bloebaum, book buyer for Powell’s in the Portland Airport, and she brings the art of handselling books based on interest to folks writing in online for her help. Today’s request is from ninjapenguin:

If so, I have kind of an unusual
request. See, thanks to your site, I have recently been introduced to the
world of well-written romance novels. (Previously I had only been cognizant
of the rather horrifyingly rape-tastic old school ones my grandmother would
leave out.) Specifically, I have started reading, and consequently, falling
hard for Georgette Heyer. But where do I go from here? See, I prefer my
romance novels *without* sex scenes. Or at the very least, without explicit
sex scenes. I prefer a discreet fade-to-black with the details left to my
imagination or just to end on a kiss or embrace as our happy couple realizes
that all the obstacles standing between them have been overcome. I am much
more concerned with the witty banter between our protagonists and the
working out of the plot than I am with knowing all the details of their
fantasies for each other. I have to hope I’m not the only one out there
with such unusual tastes. Please, Bitches, can you help?

You are SO not alone in that. Given the hotter-than-hotter direction of romance sex scenes in the past few years, often the witty banter comes to a stop while one or both admire the rigid poles holding up the hero’s tent, and I don’t mean the one at the campsite.

I turned to Billie, who had the following recommendations:


Hmmmm…Stephanie Laurens is out, then.

My first instinct is to steer her toward YA. There’s a lot of great romance
being written for that audience and most of it is, if not sex-free, then
certainly has the sex take place off-screen. The witty repartee may not be up
to Heyer’s standards, but there is also less reliance on shouting—or, well,
exclamation points, anyway. The drawback with recommending YA, though, is that
the hero and heroine are so very *young*. But, if YA is acceptable, then I can
strongly recommend both ‘Faithful’ by Janet Fox and ‘Everlasting’ by Angie
Frazier (which is flat-out one of the best debuts of 2010).

Eva Ibbotson’s novels are absolutely lovely and originally marketed to the
adult market, but again, not so much with the witty repartee. They are,
however, dreamy and romantic and completely sigh-worthy.

Patrcia C. Wrede’s ‘Marelion the Magician’ and ‘The Magician’s Ward’ were just
re-released in an omnibus edition entitled ‘A Matter of Magic’ and she did
three books with Caroline Stevermer: ‘Sorcery and Cecelia: Or, the Enchanted
Chocolate Pot’, ‘The Grand Tour’, and ‘The Mislaid Magician: Or Ten Years
After’ which are all charming Regency-set novels—with MAGIC.

Marketed strictly for the adult audience, I can recommend Mary Robinette
Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey’ which is *also* a Regency with magic.

Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody mystery novels are full of wit and romance
with a high level of sexy interplay between Amelia and Emerson, but always
with the actual deed happening behind closed doors. (Book 1 is Crocodile on the Sandbank.)

Also, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Ashton mystery novels, especially the first one ‘And Only to Deceive’,
which is like a cross between Jane Austen and the aforementioned Ms. Peters.

And, for something completely different…’Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton which
is a comedy of manners with dragons for protagonists. Very Jane Austen, but

She may also look into tracking down some of the classic Regency novels that
publishers like Signet and Harlequin once published on a regular basis. Most
of them are available used and are relatively inexpensive, allowing for some
experimenting to find authors she clicks with.

There’s also the Inspirational sub-genre, which tends to be fairly chaste, but
is really beyond my ken.

Or, she can just do what I occasionally do, and skip (or skim) the sexy bits
to get back to the important stuff. This opens up vast horizons of romance

Thank you, Billie! What do you recommend that’s high on the witty repartee but low on the sexual party?


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kristen says:

    Lynn Kurland is really good for the “fade to black” type of scene.  She has a lot of time-travel romance and most are full of the witty banter.  I recommend starting with “A Dance Through Time.”

    And thanks capsha for making me feel old: “looking45”

  2. 2
    DS says:

    Patricia Veryan wrote some very good historical novels set from mid 18th century through the Regency period.  Look for her pseudonym Gwyneth Moore. 

    Roberta Gellis wrote a Regency set in Cornwall Sing WItch, SIng Death that did not include any sex.

  3. 3
    Jane O says:

    You might try Julie Klassen. I didn’t realize her books qualified as Inspies until I had finished THE SILENT GOVERNESS and noticed the publisher. It is more gothic than witty banter, but I was surprised at how good it is.

    Ah me. How I wish that more authors would “fade to black” instead of writing scenes that make me choke with laughter when no laughter was intended.

  4. 4
    Jill Myles says:

    Seconding Lynn Kurland, and I believe LaVyrle Spencer writes really clean stuff? What about Francine Rivers? I believe hers have an inspirational message but still well-written and entertaining. I’m trying to recall if Sara Donati had love scenes in her books (they’re more family epic like Gabaldon)—if she did, they were very mild and fade to black. Michelle Rowen’s paranormals are very clean as well.

    In YA, if you like fairy tales, Shannon Hale is an excellent choice (actually I think anything by Shannon Hale is really clean).

  5. 5
    LeslieB says:

    I’d recommend some of my ‘keepers’ that I will never send to the used book sale: Bride of the MacHugh and My Lord Monleigh by Jan Cox Speas. With interesting heros and sensible-but-messed-up-priorites heroines, they were my first experiences of an ‘intelligent’ romance. Since they were written in the fifties, sex present but not graphic, yet beautifully described. Someone mentioned Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise McGraw in another post. Excellent 1950’s YA with all the romance you could ask for. Yes, Sheftu was my first as well. Also take a look at the SciFi trilogy by Doris Egan under the combined title The Complete Ivory at Amazon. Love those books and she’s a writer for House by the way.

  6. 6

    Jean Ferris’ Into the Wind, Song of the Sea, and Weather the Storm are great.

  7. 7
    StacieH4 says:

    I think Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me is 99% witty banter and 1% sex.  The only questionable scene comes at the very end—I can’t recall how explicit it is, only that it involves a couch, a trench coat belt, and Krispie Kremes. 

    Also try Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series.  I’ve only read Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary so far, but they are strong on wit and light on sex.

  8. 8
    DS says:

    Thought I would also throw this out—Angela Thirkell a British writer whose novels were mainly published before WWII are currently having a resurgence in interest.  Her books tend to be light and funny and have a bit of satire and romance included. 

    D. E. Stevenson is another author who wrote contemporary (to her) stories that I’ve really liked.  They tend to be a bit more angsty than Thirkell, but she also had a nice way with humor.  Unfortunately, they are also more out of print and more expensive as a result.

  9. 9
    StacieH4 says:

    Now that I think about Crusie’s book, there may be more sex in it than I thought…I forgot about the secondary characters David and Cynthie.  Time for a re-read I guess.

  10. 10
    Nadia says:

    The Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Reybourn is not explicit, but is in no way sweet and innocent, either.  Seriously hot sexual tension and adult subject matter.  First-person mystery-romance.  Her other book “The Dead Travel Fast” is a fine gothic, and also not particularly explicit.

    The Pink Carnation series by Laura Willig flips back and forth between present-day chick-lit and historical romance.  The first three books have a sex scene between the historical characters, but the fourth and fifth stop before the deed is done.  I’m only as far as number five, can’t tell you about the latest. 

    Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate is paranormal steampunk fun, and while there is sex, it’s rather comically presented.

  11. 11
    Carrie says:

    Bet me doesn’t have much explicit sex between David and Cynthie – but that one sex scene at the end is a doozy!

    For contemporary, try Kristan Higgins

  12. 12
    Jenny C. says:

    Thanks for posting this!  I’ve now got a great list of books to try out!

  13. 13
    Erin says:

    I seem to recall several of Elizabeth Rolls books ending with fade-to-black, and I have a number of them on my ‘keeper’ shelf.  A Compromised Lady, Unruly Chaperon…good times!

  14. 14
    Joy says:

    For contemporaries, Kristan Higgins books have sex in them, but they are not at all explicit…mostly fade-to-black.

    2 words—Traditional Regencies.  These tend to either fade to black or end with a kiss. Belgrave House has been reissuing a lot of the old traditionals in e-book.  Jo Beverley’s earlier, traditional Regencies are also being re-issued in print—and they’re good. I think _Emily and the Dark Angel_ is just out.

  15. 15
    meardaba says:

    I support 100% what StacieH4 said!  Deanna Raybourn is AMAZING, and all the sex is left to the imagination.  Also, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s magic and Victorian travel novels are incredibly enjoyable.

  16. 16
    Abbie says:

    I would agree to look at the traditional Regencies. My mom loves romances, but won’t read “pornographic” ones, so here’s some of her faves.
    JoAnn Ferguson (Zebra Regencies)
    Carla Kelly
    Most of the old Zebra and Signet Regency lines
    Patricia Veryan
    Lauren Willig
    Marian Chesney (I agree with her on these, they’re fantastic! Especially her Regencies.)
    Clare Darcy

    It’s hard to find new books being written that aren’t explicit. Most of Amanda Quick’s are fairly clean. I would say you’re going to be limited to Historicals, especially Regency, and Inspirationals. Out of the Inspirationals, I would agree that Francine Rivers is pretty good, so is Dee Henderson, some of Lori Copeland and Ted Dekker, if you like suspense/horror.

  17. 17
    R. L. Jean says:

    HOORAY! I have always been a fan of this kind of romance—the kind that implies steamy sex scenes, rather than the ones that describe every. Single. Thrust. I find myself cringing through those, and having a comical internal monologue (a la SBTB) through the whole thing.

    Hot sex scenes are so much hotter when left to the imagination. And books are so much better when they are about the characters, not the sex.

  18. 18
    Megan B says:

    Try anything from Avalon Books.  They do not have explicit sex in any of their books. Usually I find them in libraries, but you can order directly from their site.

    These are actually the first romances I read…my aunt had given me some old ones from the 70s. I highly recommend.

  19. 19
    E.D. Walker says:

    I would second the recommendation for Mara: Daughter of the Nile. GREAT book! And it has witty banter and a wonderful romance.

    A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is SF with strong romantic elements, features a wonderful courtship plot which Bujold explicitly modeled after Georgette Heyer’s regencies. Also, the Vorkosigan series is excellent.

    Jane Aiken Hodge is about the same vintage of Heyer’s later books. My mom introduced me to her. I remember reading “Greek Wedding” and “The Runaway Bride” and one other which I couldn’t find on amazon. I think Hodge’s works are pretty good for a sex-free Regency romance binge. They’re mostly out of print but you can find them used online.

    Another one from roughly the same historical era of writing is The Golden Panther, which is about a gentleman pirate/privateer in Jamaica (?). I quite liked this when I read it years ago, but then I’m a sucker for pirates.

    Also, if you read eBooks, I humbly suggest my own book which just came out. The Beauty’s Beast by E.D. Walker, from Noble Romance. It’s a Sweet Romance about a cursed werewolf knight, inspired by Marie de France’s Bisclavret and employing elements of the beauty and the beast fairy tale as well. I have some (hopefully) witty banter.

  20. 20
    E.D. Walker says:

    Ack, forgot the author on one of my recs:
    The Golden Panther by Sylvia Thorpe.

  21. 21
    Becky says:

    Cindy Holbrook is excellent.  Lots of witty banter, no sex on the page.  Unfortunately, she’s out of print at this point, but you can get used copies on Amazon, or sometimes at the local UBS.  A Rake’s Reform and Lord Sayer’s Ghost are my two favorites, but I enjoyed all of her longer books.  (The shorter books just aren’t as good, IMO.)

  22. 22
    Sophie Gunn says:

    KRISTAN HIGGINS!!! (Sorry for shouting.)

    Also on board w/ anything by Raybourn.  Such beautiful prose, with, yes, a lot of sexual tension, but not much more than swoon-worthy kisses.

    Also, Susanna Kearsley.  Love, love, love…

  23. 23
    elph says:

    She might like Kasey Michaels, who has written both Regencies and contemporaries that are big on witty repartee. Michaels writes sex scenes, but they tend to be heavy on the metaphors and light on the details. I wonder if she might also like the Stephanie Plum books? The heroine has a great wry voice, and while she does provide rather risque hints as to what occurs between herself and Morelli (or Ranger as the case may be) she does usually fade to black before the deed is accomplished.

  24. 24
    Susan Neace says:

    my favorite all time stand alone romance would fit the bill here, L. M Montgomery, of the “Anne of Green Gables” fame wrote “The Blue Castle” about a woman who wakes up to the total awfulness of her life when she finds out she is dying.  She ultimately proposes to a man she barely knows that she secretly is in love with and leaves her wretched home with her mother and aunt to move to his cabin on the lake.  It was republished a few years ago.

  25. 25
    Ashley says:

    LaVyrle Spencer, The Gamble : great, lots of tension and no sex til fade to black ending

    If you are willing to try alternate worlds:

    Lois McMaster Bujold: Curse of Chalion,  Paladin of Souls, Sharing Knife series

    CJ Cherryh: The Paladin

    Patricia McKillip: Alphabet of Thorn, Changeling Sea

    Judith Tarr: Alamut, Throne of Isis

    Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness

  26. 26

    Amelia Peabody FTW! I adore those books and am in a massive rereading of all of them as we speak. :D One of the many things I love about them is indeed the lack of overt sex—I am another person who very much prefers a fade to black, or in the case of the Amelia books, sly little remarks like “after a refreshing interval…” ;)

    And if Amelia closes a scene by crying, “Oh, Emerson!”, that is TOTALLY code for “sex is on”. But! The delightful interplay between the leads is also very much a factor here. Amelia and Emerson are one of my very favorite examples of a couple with a relationship lively enough to sustain an entire series.

    Also: just about anything written by Elizabeth Peters will have a similar discretion about it, and so will her books written under the name of Barbara Michaels. I love all that woman’s books, really. They were instrumental in setting my adult reading tastes as well as an influence on my own writing!

    Last but not least I must put in a plug for Susanna Kearsley and in particular, The Shadowy Horses. Quite similar to Peters/Michaels in style and discretion. :)

  27. 27
    Laurie says:

    You would have to buy used, but Joan Smith’s Imprudent Lady is one of my favorites.  She is very read alike to Georgette Heyer.

  28. 28
    Beth says:

    I second Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. Soulless is one of my new favorites. Very entertaining.

    Also, I’m fairly certain the sex is light in the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts. If I remember correctly, there is more of an emphasis on the emotional aspects of sex. Those are a lot of fun to read, and the last one comes out in November.

    And I wouldn’t categorize it as a romance, but I just read Until the Real Thing Comes Along, by Elizabeth Berg and one of the themes is reconciling the ideals and expectations of love with the realities of love. But it was witty, heartfelt, and genuine. And there was no sex described.

    As for YA, I also second Sorcery and Cecelia, by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede. It’s probably one of the most adorable stories ever written. And I read The Magician’s Ward way back in the day and really liked that one, too.
    Another good YA series is Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr. It’s a paranormal series where the heroine can see faeries.

  29. 29
    Patrice says:

    Although not strictly romance I have been enjoying the dialogue and action in some urban fantasys lately. Much more plot than sex, but there is violence in urban fantasy. Killing bad guys with swords can get messy for example. Marjorie Liu’s Maxine Kiss series which has a sweeping romantic thread throughout the books. Also a good YA series is Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. Love the character development and themes of loyalty, love and heartbreak.

    Speaking as a romance lover who is over half century old I like the open bedroom door and more realistic attitude to sex between adults in love, or lust to love! I am thrilled that there is such a selection of mild to erotic romance, sensual to erotica, on the market today. And there is quality writing in all that range! Of course there’s dreck out there as well, but that is true in all fiction and non fiction. I could go on a remember when…but I already feel that half century sinking into my bones. LOL I’d better go read something spicy to stir me the F up! ;-)

    Good heavens far65? TY cyberspace gods for poking these not so old yet bones! Still gonna read something spicy. LOL

  30. 30
    bh says:

    Barbara Metzger- Rake’s Ransom, My Lady Innkeeper, A Loyal Companion, Father Christmas, The Primrose Path, Miss Lockharte’s Letters, The Christmas Carrolls, and Snowdrops and Scandalbroth. That’s all I’ve read of hers.

    Elizabeth Rolls—The Unruly Chaperon, The Unexpected Bride. 

    Stephanie Laurens. Her OLDER novels. early 90’s.The Reasons for Marriage, Impetuous Innocent, Fair Juno, Four in Hand.

    Loretta Chase’s early work also rocks—Viscount Vagabond, and Knaves Wager—both very good and keepers. Sometimes hard to find possibly expensive. Same goes for Metzger.

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