Please welcome Shantastic! @bardsong to #RomBkLove. I've been following Shannon on twitter for a long time and I always enjoy her recommendations. When Calla Lily had to step away, Shannon offered to step in with her own list of recommendations, because as disabled (blind) romance reader, she had acquired a lot of opinion about the ways disability is used in Romance.
Hi everyone! My name is Shannon, and I'm excited to talk to you all about romances with disabled characters for #RomBkLove. This has become something of a passion of mine, because too often, disability is used as a shorthand in romance for angst. If you know that a heroine was blinded or a hero is an amputee, then you think you know all the reasons that character might be sad. And too often, authors don't delve into the topic more deeply than that. As a congenitally blind person with no usable vision, I've gotten used to seeing myself in the pages of books as a character who elicits either pity or inspiration, and it's important to me to consider disability from a more nuanced perspective. A romance with a disabled protagonist works when the disabled character has other facets to her life than her disability. Does she have other hobbies that are explicitly mentioned in the text? Does she exist for any other reason than to be pitied? If not, my follow-up question is always why not?
Before we get to the recs, I want to point out where I'm coming from, since everyone with a disability has a different experience. I've been blind since birth, so I grew up disabled and have no other basis for comparison. I also cannot read books about blind protagonists. I keep trying; I end up wanting to argue with the author and nitpick their research, often justifiably so, which isn't a fun experience for me as a reader. So all of these recs will be for books with protagonists with disabilities I don't share. That all being said, here are my recs:
Heidi Cullinan has tackled disability in several of her books. My personal favorite is Love Lessons, where one of the heroes has severe allergies and asthma. I loved that he finds this irritating, because it impacts all areas of his life, but it's not treated as an obstacle to overcome. I also adored Carry the Ocean and its sequel, Shelter the Sea, which feature a hero with autism and another with severe depression. They also have disabled friends, which is something I rarely see in books, although that's certainly been my experience in real life.
I really loved Serena Bell's Returning Home series, with its wounded war vets who find themselves disabled and have to figure out what that means for them. They're angsty, and the battles these heroes fight, often with themselves, are so hard won but so worth it.
Both Owen and Cara struggle with back injuries in Ainslie Paton's Damaged Goods. Owen's been newlyinjured and is addicted to pain pills. Cara was injured as a child, so she's had years to adjust to having a disability. I loved the conflict between the two of them and enjoyed Owen's journey out of addiction.
Recently, I read Laura Brown's Friend (with Benefits) Zone. The author herself is hard of hearing, and so are her characters. No mention is made of this in the blurb, which is billed as a standard-issue friends-to-lovers romance. It's so refreshing to have a book treat the disabled characters like they might be able to star in any other kind of book, disabled or no. She's got a few other titles, and I look forward to seeing what else she comes up with.
I really liked the disability as character trait, not as plot device aspect of the funny and sweet A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert, which features an autistic heroine. I always love small-town romances where the dark underbelly of life in an idyllic village is revealed. I love that Ruth is successful in her career and has hobbies, and I don't think I've ever read a book where online friendships were treated as just as valuable as real life ones. I keep buying Talia Hibbert books, and now I want to roll around in them.
I don't read a lot of romantic suspense, but I really liked Station Alpha by Aislinn Kearns, and not just because she's fun to talk with on Twitter. Paul is in a wheelchair--another wounded vet--but he's still awesome and kick-ass, and I absolutely believed why Christine would fall for him.
For historical romance, I recommend Tessa Dare's Romancing the Duke, both because it's a rip-roaring good time and because I appreciated that Dare acknowledged that vision impairment doesn't always mean a person is totally blind. Ransome felt authentic to me, and we've already talked about how hard it is for me to read blind characters. I have to give an honorable mention as well to When a Scot Ties the Knot for its story arc involving a secondary character with short-term memory loss that could have been awful and demeaning but which was instead gentle and beautifully written.
Years ago, Jennifer Ashley's The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie took the romance world by storm. The titular Lord Ian MacKenzie has what we'd now consider Asperger's. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember that I really enjoyed it.
I can't step away from historicals without a shoutout to Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, which features a sheltered Quaker paired with a mathematical genius who is recovering from a stroke. I don't always like Kinsale's heroines, but this book is the ultimate in high drama and intense emotions.
Considering how much I love paranormals, you'd think I'd be able to rec a bunch for this topic. Part of the reason I can't is that I'm personally irritated by the trope where a person with a superpower considers it a disability. I have a real disability. Believe me, it's not a superpower. That said, I loved Ruby Dixon's Fire in His Fury, which has a heroine with a pronounced limp. Amy is sort of a plot mcguffin early on in the series, but once she gets her own book, she gets all the agency I could ever want for her, and Rast, her dragon lover, is delicious.
Even though they're not romances, I do have to give a shout-out to the delightful mangoverse books by Shira Glassman. Shulamit has major food allergies, and Aviva shows her love by providing her gluten-free meals. It's not something she makes a big deal about, and she doesn't ask for cookies, and the romance between the two women is wonderfully sweet.
What books have I missed? Please share them in the #rombklove hashtag.
Also, check out Calla Lily's excellent blog, Sense and Disability, for another disabled person's take on this topic and additional recs.