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Sweets to the Sweet

I wrote about sensuality in Romance back in September, covering the "hot" end of the scale ("Burning Books").  This month, I promised to take a look at the other end of the sensuality spectrum-- the "sweets."  Sweets are romances that do not contain explicit sexual content, focusing instead on the social, emotional, and mental aspects of the romantic relationship.  You're likely to see kisses and some cuddling, but any further physical involvement (if there is any) will happen behind doors that are closed to the reader.  As romance author MaryJanice Davidson puts it, "There will be no forced seduction in these books.  Tons of respect, of soul-searching, of angst.  But no booty."  It's not that sweets are anti-sex; they just treat it as a profound step in a romantic relationship, not something to be undertaken lightly or casually.  If bodice-rippers make you blush and all you want is some good, clean romance, these are the books for you!

So, how can you tell a sweet romance from a sexy one?  Sometimes it's easier to recognize what isn't a sweet.  Shapechanger romances almost never sweet; "Beauty and the Beast" aside, they tend to rank pretty high on the sensuality scale.  (Not too surprising, really-- they're all about getting in touch with one's inner beast.)  Romantica (erotic romance), obviously, is the very antithesis of sweet.  "Racy Regencies"-- Regency-set historicals, for the purists-- took what once was sweet and made it hot.  How do you recognize them, then?  Go ahead and judge the book by its cover: cover art can sometimes provide an early warning of heat between the pages.  If there's a clinch on the cover-- a torrid embrace, usually with one or both parties in (ahem!) dishabille-- it's probably NOT a sweet.  (Be aware that the clinch might be hidden away inside the stepback, which is a glossy, illustrated flyleaf that acts as a cover-behind-the-cover.)  A near-naked solo character on the cover can also signal a story that's probably steamier than you may be comfortable with. 

Unfortunately, cover art clues don't always work as well for the mild end of the sensuality spectrum.  Traditional Regencies generally display characters on the cover in unprovocative poses, fully laced and buttoned (unlike racy Regencies, which often show skin and loosened bodices).  Amish romances have been nicknamed "bonnet books" because they usually depict a woman in traditional dress on the cover.  But an innocuous cover doesn't always reflect innocuous contents!  Catherine Anderson, whose covers display artistic florals, writes in a variety of styles that run the gamut from sweet to hot.  Bertrice "Never-Met-a-Manroot-She-Didn't-Love"* Small has quite demure covers (flowers and ribbons, or fully-clothed women standing alone) that give little warning of their highly explicit contents.

There are some typically "sweet" subgenres you can look for, such as inspirational romance, Amish romantic fiction, traditional Regencies, and "heartwarming" contemporaries.  Chick lit also tends to go light on the physical relationships, as the focus is generally on the female lead at a turning point in her life.  Many romantic suspense titles keep their protagonists far too busy to "get busy," but not all-- sometimes those near-death experiences motivate the characters even faster towards, er, life-affirming intimacies.  Among series romances, the Steeple Hill, Harlequin Romance, Silhouette Romance, Mills & Boon Regency Historicals (released in the US as part of the Harlequin Historicals line) and most of the Harlequin American Romance titles are generally "sweet."  Bear in mind, though, that authors who write sweets don't always stick to them exclusively; Barbara Metzger has long been known for her sweet historicals (even the scandalously-titled The Wicked Ways of a True Hero was a kisses-only book!), but her most recent title, The Bargain Bride, is quite sensual. 

If you're serious about sticking to sweets, your best help can be found online.  The All About Romance website lets you search reviews by sensuality rating.  Their "Kisses" sensuality rating is for "kisses only" titles; "Subtle" titles may include some allusions to lovemaking, but no explicit sensuality.  You may also want to check out their "One Foot on the Floor" list.  The RT Book Reviews site uses sensuality ratings in their reviews as well, and lets you search back issues (newer reviews are accessible by subscription only).  "Sweet" or "Mild" ratings indicate stories that may or may not include lovemaking, but contain no explicit sex (the two ratings mean the same thing; they just changed terms in Sept. 2006).  Finally, there's The Romance Reader.  Their archive is unfortunately not searchable, but they do include sensuality ratings (based on movie ratings) with their reviews: "G" titles may include love scenes, but little or no sex, and "PG" titles include non-descriptive sex (nothing graphic).  Just be aware that these sites don't always agree in their ratings-- when in doubt, look for further reviews.

I've gathered a few sweet titles for you below (a mix of "Kisses" and "Subtle," to go by AAR's ratings).  And since we're coming up on December, I've tossed a few seasonal sweets (or should those be "candy canes"?) in as a bonus!

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (Fiction Alexander)
Sun Kissed by Catherine Anderson (PbkRomance Anderson)
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh (Fiction Balogh)
Lovers and Ladies by Jo Beverley (PbkRomance Beverley)
Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton (PbkRomance Bretton)
Mistletoe and Molly by Janet Dailey (PbkRomance Dailey)
Secrets by Jude Deveraux (Fiction Deveraux)
The Sweet By and By by Sara Evans & Rachel Hauck (New Fiction Evans)
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview (Fiction Fairview)
Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde (Fiction Fforde)
A Wedding at Leopard Tree Lodge by Liz Fielding (PbkRomance Fielding)
Lake Magic by Kimberly Fisk (PbkRomance Fisk)
The Swiss Courier by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey (Fiction Goyer)
Untraceable by Laura Griffin (PbkRomance Griffin)
The Bridesmaid's Secret by Fiona Harper (PbkRomance Harper)
Below the Surface by Karen Harper (LP Harper)
Catching Katie by Robin Lee Hatcher (Fiction Hatcher)
Freefall by Kristen Heitzmann (Fiction Heitzmann)
The Guardian by Dee Henderson (Fiction Henderson)
Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer (Fiction Heyer)
Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins (PbkRomance Higgins)
The Killing Game by Iris Johansen (Fiction Johansen)
Ever After by Karen Kingsbury (Fiction Kingsbury)
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas (New Fiction Kleypas)
One Enchated Evening by Lynn Kurland (PbkRomance Kurland)
Heart of Stone by Jill Marie Landis (PbkRomance Landis)
To Love a Wicked Lord by Edith Layton (PbkRomance Layton)
Home for the Holidays by Johanna Lindsey (Fiction Lindsey)
One Season of Sunshine by Julia London (PbkRomance London)
That Holiday Feeling by Debbie Macomber, et al. (PbkRomance That)
To Catch A Rogue by Amanda McCabe (PbkRomance McCabe)
Truly Yours by Barbara Metzger (PbkRomance Metzger)
Comfort and Joy by Fern Michaels, et al. (PbkRomance Michaels)
Somewhere To Belong by Judith McCoy Miller (Fiction Miller)
A Woman Called Sage by DiAnn Mills (PbkRomance Mills)
She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell (PbkRomance Mitchell)
Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi (Fiction Morsi)
The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullany (Fiction Mullany)
A Star Looks Down by Betty Neels (PbkRomance Neels)
More than Words: Stories of Strength by Carla Neggers, et al. (PbkRomance More)
The Bluebird and the Sparrow by Janette Oke (Fiction Oke)
Love's Proof by Catherine Palmer (Fiction Palmer)
Where My Heart Belongs by Tracie Peterson (Fiction Peterson)
Holiday Affair by Lisa Plumley (PbkRomance Plumley)
The Fortune Quilt by Lani Diane Rich (Fiction Rich)
Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers (Fiction Rivers)
Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad (PbkRomance Seilstad)
The Stone Flower Garden by Deborah Smith (Fiction Smith)
Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer (Fiction Spencer)
Coming Home by Mariah Stewart (PbkRomance Stewart)
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart (LP Stewart)
Somewhere Along the Way by Jodi Thomas (PbkRomance Thomas)
Open Country by Kaki Warner (PbkRomance Warner)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (PbkRomance Webber)
Lakeshore Christmas by Susan Wiggs (Fiction Wiggs)
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig (Fiction Willig)
Deception by Terry Lynn Wilhelm (PbkRomance Wilhelm)
Word Gets Around by Lisa Wingate (Fiction Wingate)
Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson (PbkRomance Whitson)
Chesapeake Shores Christmas by Sherryl Woods (New Fiction Woods)

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