Hannah is a licensed counselor and Geralt of Rivia aficionado. She runs the romance-bookstagram @HannahHeartsRomance and regularly obsesses over horses, European soccer/football, and coffee.
Tell us a little bit about you! What got you into romance? What inspired you to start your account and how long have you been running it?
I am not one of those people who remembers their first romance novel. I know that I started reading it sometime in high school because I have memories of browsing the romance section at Borders when I was young enough that my mom still had to drive me, and then driving myself once I had my license. I started reading it more in college because I was drowning in heavy academic reading and found myself gravitating toward it. What better way to counterbalance dry ethnographic studies than with an HEA? I read it off and on for a while after that. Starting after the 2016 election, though, I found myself craving the comfort and dependability of romance. I became almost incapable of finishing a book from any other genre. I started engaging with other romance readers and some authors online, and in April last year I created my romance-specific account. I have met so many amazing people in this community and discovered authors and stories I never would have read otherwise. My wallet has never been the same, though.
What types of romances do you gravitate towards? Is there a subgenre/trope/book boyfriend archetype/heroine personality that you can’t seem to stay away from (and why)?
I tend to read mostly contemporary and historical, though I’ve started sprinkling in some paranormal and sci fi romance recently. I love any trope that comes with lots of tension: enemies to lovers, fake relationship, forced proximity. Also I am an angst reader. Like, is this book going to yank my heart out of my chest, play some tennis with it, then give it a warm hug and a cookie and snuggle it gently back into my body? Then I need it in my eyeballs. Right now I am all about angry women being loved for their fire and passion. I’ve always loved that romance has examples of strong women, but lately I’ve been craving even more of that “screw you” energy and women who don’t feel the need to change or apologize for their rage in order to find love. I could probably write a whole separate essay on the why of that, but suffice to say that in this day and age I love anything that celebrates women (whether cis, hetero, queer, trans, whatever) who aren’t the stereotypical caretaking, calming, sweet influence.
What are your favorite aspects of bookstagram?
I love getting to connect with people from all over the world who also love to read romance. I don’t know a lot of people in my day-to-day life that read romance, so bookstagram and the online Romancelandia community has been such a fun thing to be a part of. My favorite part is the exchanging of recommendations—is there anything better than someone loving something you suggested to them or getting to tell someone how much you loved that thing they convinced you to read? My reading horizons have also expanded so much thanks to bookstagram. I’ve discovered indie authors and other writers I would never have heard of otherwise because they just aren’t on the shelves of most bookstores I have access to. I also would not be reading books from certain subgenres without a push from some of my online reading friends. Romance readers are smart, passionate people and I love to hear how people are interpreting certain books or events in Romancelandia. I always learn so much from other readers and it pushes me to be open to new reading experiences—which is almost never a bad thing.
I imagine working as a counselor, you put in a great deal of emotional labor and giving to others. What do you do for self-care? Does reading romance help your mental health?
Romance absolutely helps my mental health! I love the dependability of it. I know that no matter how it gets there, there will always be a happily ever after. Even high-angst romance (my favorite) doesn’t wear on me as much as the unpredictability of other genres. I can read any romance and know that it’ll work out in the end. Besides reading, my biggest self-care activity is spending time with my horse. To horse people there’s nothing more relaxing than the smells and sounds of the barn. I’m also an introvert and a big believer in hibernation—I have no shame about spending a whole weekend alone in my apartment eating takeout, drinking wine, and watching The Witcher for the 28955th time to recover from a particularly draining week.
I love that you assign Meyer’s-Briggs profiles to the characters of the books you read. Do you think the personality dynamics in romance novels ever help readers to navigate their own interpersonal relationships?
Thanks! And I hope it does. Obviously we’re talking about fiction and there are going to be elements that are dramatized or condensed for entertainment purposes, but it’s always based in something familiar. Whether it’s straight-up contemporary or aliens and sex planets, the payoff of romance is the authenticity of a human (or human-like) connection between characters. So if someone reads a book with characters that are similar personality-wise to themselves and their partner(s), they might get a kernel of something that will help them navigate that. It might be, “Oh, that conflict resolution was really believable, that character’s feelings about it really resonated with me.” Or it might be, “Eeeeeek. I hope we never have an interaction like that but if we do, I would handle it differently from that character.” (And if that sparks something for a reader that they want to keep working on, I hope they would consider relationship counseling. It’s a common misconception that people should only go to therapy if they’re having major problems—it can also be a place to learn more about each other with the help of a third-party trained to help with that. Okay, counseling mini-TED talk over.)
Critics of romance readers often degrade the genre as “mommy-porn,” or say it gives readers an unrealistic expectation of relationships. As not only a reader, but someone that studies human behavior, why do you think the genre gets so much hate and has so much stigma surrounding it?
Hoooo, boy. There’s the usual and always-applicable answer of misogyny. I also think there’s an element of our modern (Western) culture’s general discomfort with emotion. It’s a taboo subject. When someone greets you and asks, “How are you?” you’re supposed to say “Fine.” It’s not usually acceptable to say anything else, even if it’s “I’m so happy today!” Our emotions are always supposed to be in moderation and under control and any deviation from that is commented on. Romance, though, is all about feelings. We recommend books to each other by saying things like, “OMG this book and my FEELINGS and I CRIED and I LOVE IT.” To be that interested in/comfortable with emotions is strange to a lot of people who are entrenched in that culture of “fine.” Frankly, I think the rest of the world could learn a lot from us romance readers.
What goes into your review and posting process? Do you plan your photos in advance? Do you have an extensive editing process for pictures? Do you read on a schedule or based on your mood?
Speaking of MBTI, I’m an INFP which means I rarely have a plan for anything. And if I do, it’s a general idea and then I figure the rest out later. I’m a huge mood reader and extremely gut-oriented, so my review process is usually something like: Read book. Word vomit first draft of review while feelings are still fresh. Tell myself I’m going to wait a day and edit it. Decide to fuck that plan and post it 30 minutes later after a brief grammar edit. So when I post a review on Goodreads, in particular, it’s mostly my raw thoughts/feelings about what I just read. I don’t get real fancy with my pictures, just try to take a decent picture and use an app to make it a little bit prettier. Sometimes I try to come up with a pretty flat lay, but it’s usually less than 30 minutes between deciding to take the picture and posting it. (All the J’s out there are having minor anxiety attacks reading this, I’m sure. Sorry, list-makers and check-boxers, it’s just how I roll.)
If you were putting together a required reading list for romance readers, what three books would be on it and why?
At least three is better than one, but gaaah! Okay, here’s what I’m going with: (1) Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert because it feels very real and relatable. It takes on some serious life topics like chronic illness and abusive relationships but never feels too heavy. It depicts two absolutely delightful characters earning their HEA and frankly, I dare anyone to not like this book. (2) Unclaimed by Courtney Milan. I think this is one of her most underrated books. It’s one of my all-time faves. It does so much work about gender, women’s bodily autonomy, sexuality, and what loving someone really means. Plus, virgin hero (*looks meaningfully at a certain Frolic contributor*). (3) Hither Page by Cat Sebastian. I waffled between suggesting this one and A Duke in Disguise by the same author, but I decided to go with Hither Page because I’ve never read anything else quite like it. It’s described as a “cozy mystery” which absolutely fits—it’s got a great cast of characters, the connection between the heroes feels authentic, and it’s just the kind of book that makes me want to curl up on the couch on a gloomy day with a fluffy blanket and cup of coffee.
What has been your favorite read so far this year?
Not fair! I’m cheating. In the Women Are Angry and Magnificent category: Small Change by Roan Parrish, Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt, and For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale. All very different stories but with incredibly fierce, opinionated women who get to be loved for who they are. A 2020 release I adored is Headliners by Lucy Parker. I would recommend it to literally anyone.
Finally, what is your favorite gif or photo of Geralt?
And I thought narrowing down favorite books was hard. I mean, I’m a horse girl and so part of my obsession is that Geralt clearly loves Roach and I love any gif that shows him looking adoringly at his horse. But then of course there’s anything with that chest. Unff.