Bea & Leah Koch  Interview by:  Kiki Georgiou  Photography by:  Julia Stotz   Bea & Lea Koch, with the help of their one-eyed, four-legged friend Fitz (Fitzwilliam Waffles, far better at the social game than his namesake Mr Darcy), not only opened an independent bookstore when so many are sadly closing their doors but created a safe space for romance aficionados and rookies alike. Plus, it has the best name. Ever.                              

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Leah (left), Bea (right), & Mr. Fitzwilliam (below)  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                          Girls at Library :  What’s the origin story of  The Ripped Bodice ?     Bea : The origin story of the store is not that exciting unfortunately. It happened over one conversation, which is how Leah and I tend to work - we get an idea and we go with it. I was visiting Leah here in LA, she was driving me back to the airport and we said, you know what would be really fun…    Leah : First it was what are we going to do with our lives.    Bea : …because she was graduating college and I was graduating grad school. What are we going to do with our lives? Oh, it’d be really fun to have a store! We’re both visual people, we love talking about things we love so we thought we would be good sales people and then we were like, we should have books and if we’re going to have books they would have to be romance novels because that’s basically all we read. It should all be romance novels. And that was it.   Leah : That was like, five minutes. Boom! Done.   Bea : Yeah! It was a quick ark. In my graduate work I was working on romance academically – I studied fashion history but I was writing a thesis titled Mending the Ripped Bodice. So, we did a lot more research, we launched our Kickstarter in October 2015 and we were open in March 2016.                               

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Leah  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                             GAL :  How did you get into romance?     Bea : I’m the older sister. The first books we ever read were the American Girl history books. Our mom said that if you can read a full American History book you can get the doll.     Leah : You had to read it out loud to her!    Bea : …to prove to her that you understood. So I picked Kirsten…    Leah : … I read Josephina.     Bea : I loved history growing up. I loved the diaries of the American Girls, they were these beautifully packaged little things with ribbons in them to mark your place!    Leah : We tried to get them for the store but they’re not in print anymore!     Bea : They were delightful and the royal ones had gilt-edged pages…     Leah : …that was very important to B!      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Bea reading  Cranford   
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


      Bea : Of course! I cared visually what my books looked like. I think that’s important because I went from reading those to reading historical fiction, which to me looked very similar - ladies in fancy dresses - and then I seamlessly went into romance without quite realizing what I was doing. I loved Loretta Chase, Julia Quinn… I found historical writers who I loved but I didn’t realize what romance was and that they were all in the same world.     Leah : I think I read a few of B’s historical romances when I was pretty young. I was never the student of history that she was and I didn’t like the historical stuffiness of it, I still don’t. The first person I picked up that got me into romance was Nora Roberts. I think a lot of our reading habits were shaped by bookstores because we used to go to Barnes & Noble as a family every Sunday and things were very much influenced by how bookstores are laid out. So, for instance, for B it was very easy to make the leap from historical fiction to historical romance because they’re right next to each other and I would wander from that section to more contemporary romance. Our parents taught us to be very careful with money with one exception, which is that we never had a budget on our books. They always bought us whatever books we wanted and they put no restrictions on what we could read.                                 GAL :  Did you set out to change people’s perceptions of the genre?     Bea : I think support is the right word because this community - we call it Romancelandia sometimes, that’s the colloquial term - was already here and no other bookstore was tapping into it. We wanted to create a space for that community. Those writers have been going on tour and trying to sell their books for years and have frequently not received the warmest welcome from other bookstores. As readers, when we used to go into bookstores and ask for romance…    Leah : That’s the main thing that motivated us to open the store. You walk into a bookstore and you ask where the romance section is and they don’t have one. Pretty much every independent bookstore in LA doesn’t have a romance section. Barnes & Noble are usually pretty good about it because they want to make money.     Bea : We are very tongue-in-cheek. We’re having fun with it.    Leah : We come very much from a place of celebration. The books we are selling are fun and happy and the whole point of the place is to be fun and happy.     Bea : The requirement of the romance novel is that it has a happily ever after.                            

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Leah using a product sold at their store to help you hold open your book (& they are only $4!)  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


                 GAL :  How do you select the books you’re selling?     Leah : That’s 90% of our job and the word we use is curation.     Bea : There’s so much coming out of romance and we deal both with self-published, independently-published and traditionally-published books. We are trying to stay on top of everything that’s coming out and it’s just impossible to do that.     Leah : We try to respond to our customers and listen to what they are telling us about the kinds of books they’re enjoying. I have all these different lists, I like to keep up so I’ll read 2-3 new releases a week and then I’m always trying to beef up the sub-genres that I’m not as well versed in. Say someone really likes paranormal vampires, I recommend my favourite three books to them, they go and read them all and come back in needing more. I’m not very well versed in the lesbian genre so I’m going to read two of those this week. And cowboys are not my thing but I need to beef up my cowboy recommendations.     Bea : The inner working of publishing are both fascinating and so convoluted! We do a lot of things top to bottom, it’s just us so, we’re buying the books and we’re seeing how the books get made but it’s always important to keep in mind that it doesn’t matter to the reader, they just want to read the book.    Leah : It doesn’t matter to the reader but it matters to us. I mean, we are a tiny bookstore so publishers don’t care about us but we care about what publishers do. We pay attention to, shall we say, publisher ethics.  It says in our mission statement that the people writing the books should be fairly profiting from them as well as us. If a self-published book is done beautifully and we hand it to somebody they don’t know it’s self-published and they don’t care. I think probably 20% of the books we carry are self-published.    Bea : Even more so, the amount of self-published romance that are hits in the community and in the New York Times best-seller list is up there.    Leah : The NYT just announced that they’re eliminating their mass-market paperback best-seller list and we are not happy. We wrote them an angry email. They are specifically targeting books written by women. The number of women on the NYT best-seller list is going to plummet. On the mass-market list it’s 98% women. It’s them and James Patterson and that’s it!     Bea : It’s particularly disappointing to us to see in this moment, when we need to be lifting up women’s voices and marginalised voices, voices that aren’t traditionally included in the NYT best-seller lists, that you’re going to get rid off all the lists where they could possibly exist.    Leah : Young Adult is the most diverse sector of the publishing industry.    Bea : NYT best-seller list means nothing anymore. These are the best-sellers, these are the books that are selling across the country in Walmarts, Targets - it’s what people are reading.                                   

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Bea reading  A Curious Beginning   
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                          GAL :  You recently introduced your women’s fiction section, why?     Bea : Even if we read stuff that’s not romance we find a way to sell it here. L just read Emma Donohue’s   The Wonder   and because of some other stuff that we’d been talking about we expanded our women’s fiction section.    Leah : It’s mostly because we wanted to carry more books that would make Herr Trump mad! We wanted as many books that had feminism in the title as possible. And we felt that we needed to be selling more important books by women not strictly bound by romance. It’s not a huge section but we wanted to have Zadie Smith and Emma Donohue, Emma Straub and Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I actually had a dream last night that for our next window display we should order sixty copies of   We Should All Be Feminists   and just paper the walls! 98% of the books we sell are by women writers. The main place you find male writers is in male-male gay romance where we have some very beloved fantastic male writers.     Bea : Elsewhere it’s mostly women…    Leah : And Tolstoy!     Bea : What we’re trying to do is lift up classic women who have not been focused on the same way Anna Karenina by Tolstoy has been.      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Their women’s fiction section  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


      Leah : There’s such a wonderful male readership of romance, in gay romance and heterosexual, and we don’t like to leave them out but this is a store for women and it’s designed for women, everything is done with women in mind. People are really lovely and compliment us on our décor because it doesn’t really look like a bookstore, it’s a feminine space and we don’t have a problem with that.    Bea : The most upsetting to me is when there’s a man and a woman walking around and you can hear the man denigrating what’s here to his partner who may be interested and he’s just cutting her down. That happens all the time. We’re good but since the election…    Leah : …I don’t care so much anymore about respecting the people who are just rude to us for the sake of being rude. We have a display from a new line called Human is Human from one of our artists we’ve had since we opened. It’s all anti-Trump-themed pins and magnets and brooches and we were like, we’re giving you a whole table. I think we were much more hesitant in our first couple of months about appearing political and now it’s just, we can’t be a feminist sex-positive business and keep our mouths shut.     Bea : The link between all these things is important to know. If art for women is being so ignored and mocked and denigrated that’s going to seep into other things and if you can’t possibly take seriously a book written by a woman with sex in it, think about that for a minute. Why is it so difficult for you to take it seriously? But we hear it all the time. It’s so subversive.    Leah : And it’s so political. I had this idea – all of our books obviously come in boxes and we have tons and tons of cardboard so I’m going to start cutting apart the cardboard and we’re going to have a box that’s free protest signs! All the stores are out of poster board so you can take our cardboard to make your protest sign!      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Bea (left) holding a copy of  Alex & Eliza , & Leah holding a copy of Nora Ephon's  Heartburn   
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                        GAL :  Where do you like to read?      Leah : We’re both bed readers. I have outfitted my bed… I have really bad eyesight so I wear contacts and then I wear reading glasses on top. B made fun of me because I got reading glasses that had lights on them but I didn’t like them so then I got a special light that’s on my wall and I can pull it out so it shines directly on my book but I think it’s cool! I then read a fair amount at the store, at the desk usually in the late evening when my brain is done with work. I’d say I read probably at least two hours a day, maybe fifteen a week.    Bea : I like to read outside a lot and since I moved to LA we have a hammock and chairs on our front porch. I wake up at five in the morning and I go sit on our front porch with my coffee or my tea and my dog and we read and catch up on the news and it’s really nice and quiet. I read in fits and spurts so I’ll go days without reading and I’ll read three books in a row.                            

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Leah lounging upstairs in their use book section.  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


        

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


                          GAL :     If you could give us your recommendations both for romance novices and experts…     Bea : I like to start with two different people: Julia Quinn if you’re looking for a traditional Regency romance - a big family with lots of siblings all getting married and each with their own obstacles falling in love. Her most popular series is called   The Bridgertons  , they’re eight books, each book features a different sibling and they are named alphabetically so Anthony is the oldest and Hyacinth is the youngest and they’re so charming and lovely. If you love Julia Quinn then Tess Dare is my current most favourite. She tends to write very nerdy heroines so in   A Week to be Wicked   she has a palaeontologist heroine who finds a fossil and wants to present it at an academic conference so decides she’s going to go there herself. It’s kind of a road trip romance because the hero follows her, it’s so cute, they’re in a carriage, which is the road trip vehicle of choice so it’s delightful. Beverly Jenkins is my other favourite historical novelist, she writes American historical so it’s very different.    Leah : They are so freaking charming!     Bea : L just read her new one,   Forbidden  , she’s going to be here. She has one series that’s about pirates and the final book features a heroine who is a pirate, she steals the hero’s ships and oh my god, it’s so good! It’s a very different historical novel, Regencies tend to be very light and fluffy with ballrooms and dukes, they’re very familiar if you’ve read Jane Austen. The American Historicals tend to focus a little bit more on the exciting part of history…    Leah : Wars! They’re all about wars.     Bea : I just read an amazing series that’s all about astronauts, which if you loved   Hidden Figures  …    Leah : This would be good for non-novices that are looking for something new. It’s called   Star Dust   by Emma Barry.     Bea : It’s about astronauts and the women who loved them in the sixties in Houston…    Leah : It’s about the space race!    Bea : They’re so charming. The first one I read is about a new divorcée who’s on her own for the first time, she has two kids, it’s about being a single mom and falling in love, it is delightful.    I have more! If you really love Jane Austen and you’re looking for who came after her, it’s Georgette Hyere. These books were written in the Twenties and they’re the source material for almost all the historical romance written now. She wrote them for her brother who was sick with consumption, it was a way to amuse him and then she started publishing them and she was a superstar in her own time. In England she continues to be and she hasn’t really made the jump over here, which is really bizarre and shocking to me.     Leah : My novice contemporary recommendations: Nora Roberts is never going to be a bad place to start. The first Bridal Quartet novel is called   Vision in White   and it’s always a great starting point, very traditional. If you want to experience what has come to be known as erotic romance - all the plot of romance but way dirtier - I would recommend Christina Lauren and Alisha Rai, her books are fantastic. She was annoyed with all the male billionaire series and wrote a book where the female is a billionaire called   A Gentleman in the Streets  . If you’re looking for something more issues-based, Courtney Milan is currently writing a contemporary series, the first one is called   Trade Me   and is one of the best-written contemporary romances I’ve ever read.  For people more familiar with the genre, I don’t know how you would have missed this last year but, if you did,   The Hating Game   by Sally Thorne was one of my favourites of last year. Another of our favourite books that we’d like to get more play than it does, is called   How Not To Fall   by Emily Foster who is notable because Emily is a sex educator in her real life.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Fitzwilliam in a custom monogrammed sweater  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                          GAL :  We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace.    What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?     Bea :   Wolf Hall  , which is one of my favourite historical novels.       Harvest  , my favourite compilation of Emily Dickinson’s poems –our mother gave me the copy she had in college with all her annotations.     I’m an Emma girl over   Pride and Prejudice  , I tend to love difficult heroines so along those lines…        It Happened One Autumn   is probably my most re-read romance novel. Lisa Kleypas has a series called   The Wallflowers   that has two sisters and two friends that band together because none of them can get married so they’re going to find each person a husband and each get a book. It Happened One Autumn a prickly heroine - I relate a lot to that heroine!     Leah :   Beautiful Stranger   by Christina Lauren, which has one of my favourite heroes in it because he’s British and also because, and this is really hard to do, he’s really nice but still really hot!      The Game Plan  by Christine Callaghan is very similar but the hero in that one is a football player but he’s a virgin! It’s really good. I re-read that one all the time.     My last one will be   Him   by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen, which is a male-male hockey romance and it’s so good I stayed up reading it last night.                          

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Leah (left), Fitzwilliam , & Bea   
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


                          GAL :  If you could live the life of one of those heroines who would it be?     Bea : I’m not one who romanticizes history. I love history, fuck no would want to live there! First, I’m an ill person chronically so and I would have consumption without a doubt.    Leah : I would want to live in one of the beautiful perfect small towns…    Bea : Mine would be   Three Sisters Island  .    Leah : That’s such a good call, that’s where I want to live!    Bea : My favourite Nora Roberts are the so-called para-Noras. We would be witches and we could own the bookstore, obviously, and all of the girls marry the police chief…    Leah : Or the scientist who comes to study paranormal activity or in the last one, where she marries her long-lost love. That’s totally where I want to live, we want to live on Three Sisters Island.    Bea : And Fritz as well.             

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Fitzwilliam  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


    

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


             

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Visit  The Ripped Bodice ! Also find them on their  website , on  Instagram  ,  and  Twitter . Find Fitz on Instagram  here . Make sure to follow their  calendar  for upcoming events!  All images and content are copyright of Girls at Library. Please do not use them without our express permission.
 

Bea &
Leah Koch

Interview by: Kiki Georgiou
Photography by: Julia Stotz

Bea & Lea Koch, with the help of their one-eyed, four-legged friend Fitz (Fitzwilliam Waffles, far better at the social game than his namesake Mr Darcy), not only opened an independent bookstore when so many are sadly closing their doors but created a safe space for romance aficionados and rookies alike. Plus, it has the best name. Ever.
 

 

 
Leah (left), Bea (right), & Mr. Fitzwilliam (below)

Leah (left), Bea (right), & Mr. Fitzwilliam (below)

 
 

Girls at Library:
What’s the origin story of The Ripped Bodice?
 
Bea:
The origin story of the store is not that exciting unfortunately. It happened over one conversation, which is how Leah and I tend to work - we get an idea and we go with it. I was visiting Leah here in LA, she was driving me back to the airport and we said, you know what would be really fun…
 
Leah:
First it was what are we going to do with our lives.
 
Bea:
…because she was graduating college and I was graduating grad school. What are we going to do with our lives? Oh, it’d be really fun to have a store! We’re both visual people, we love talking about things we love so we thought we would be good sales people and then we were like, we should have books and if we’re going to have books they would have to be romance novels because that’s basically all we read. It should all be romance novels. And that was it.

Leah:
That was like, five minutes. Boom! Done.

Bea:
Yeah! It was a quick ark. In my graduate work I was working on romance academically – I studied fashion history but I was writing a thesis titled Mending the Ripped Bodice. So, we did a lot more research, we launched our Kickstarter in October 2015 and we were open in March 2016. 

 

 
 
Leah

Leah

 
 

 

GAL:
How did you get into romance?
 
Bea:
I’m the older sister. The first books we ever read were the American Girl history books. Our mom said that if you can read a full American History book you can get the doll. 
 
Leah:
You had to read it out loud to her!
 
Bea:
…to prove to her that you understood. So I picked Kirsten…
 
Leah:
… I read Josephina. 
 
Bea:
I loved history growing up. I loved the diaries of the American Girls, they were these beautifully packaged little things with ribbons in them to mark your place!
 
Leah:
We tried to get them for the store but they’re not in print anymore! 
 
Bea:
They were delightful and the royal ones had gilt-edged pages… 
 
Leah:
…that was very important to B! 

Bea reading Cranford

Bea reading Cranford

Bea:
Of course! I cared visually what my books looked like. I think that’s important because I went from reading those to reading historical fiction, which to me looked very similar - ladies in fancy dresses - and then I seamlessly went into romance without quite realizing what I was doing.
I loved Loretta Chase, Julia Quinn… I found historical writers who I loved but I didn’t realize what romance was and that they were all in the same world. 
 
Leah:
I think I read a few of B’s historical romances when I was pretty young. I was never the student of history that she was and I didn’t like the historical stuffiness of it, I still don’t. The first person I picked up that got me into romance was Nora Roberts. I think a lot of our reading habits were shaped by bookstores because we used to go to Barnes & Noble as a family every Sunday and things were very much influenced by how bookstores are laid out. So, for instance, for B it was very easy to make the leap from historical fiction to historical romance because they’re right next to each other and I would wander from that section to more contemporary romance. Our parents taught us to be very careful with money with one exception, which is that we never had a budget on our books. They always bought us whatever books we wanted and they put no restrictions on what we could read.

 
 
 

 GAL:
Did you set out to change people’s perceptions of the genre?
 
Bea:
I think support is the right word because this community - we call it Romancelandia sometimes, that’s the colloquial term - was already here and no other bookstore was tapping into it. We wanted to create a space for that community. Those writers have been going on tour and trying to sell their books for years and have frequently not received the warmest welcome from other bookstores. As readers, when we used to go into bookstores and ask for romance…
 
Leah:
That’s the main thing that motivated us to open the store. You walk into a bookstore and you ask where the romance section is and they don’t have one. Pretty much every independent bookstore in LA doesn’t have a romance section. Barnes & Noble are usually pretty good about it because they want to make money. 
 
Bea:
We are very tongue-in-cheek. We’re having fun with it.
 
Leah:
We come very much from a place of celebration. The books we are selling are fun and happy and the whole point of the place is to be fun and happy. 
 
Bea:
The requirement of the romance novel is that it has a happily ever after. 

 
 
Leah using a product sold at their store to help you hold open your book (& they are only $4!)

Leah using a product sold at their store to help you hold open your book (& they are only $4!)

 

GAL:
How do you select the books you’re selling?
 
Leah:
That’s 90% of our job and the word we use is curation. 
 
Bea:
There’s so much coming out of romance and we deal both with self-published, independently-published and traditionally-published books. We are trying to stay on top of everything that’s coming out and it’s just impossible to do that. 
 
Leah:
We try to respond to our customers and listen to what they are telling us about the kinds of books they’re enjoying. I have all these different lists, I like to keep up so I’ll read 2-3 new releases a week and then I’m always trying to beef up the sub-genres that I’m not as well versed in. Say someone really likes paranormal vampires, I recommend my favourite three books to them, they go and read them all and come back in needing more. I’m not very well versed in the lesbian genre so I’m going to read two of those this week. And cowboys are not my thing but I need to beef up my cowboy recommendations. 
 
Bea:
The inner working of publishing are both fascinating and so convoluted! We do a lot of things top to bottom, it’s just us so, we’re buying the books and we’re seeing how the books get made but it’s always important to keep in mind that it doesn’t matter to the reader, they just want to read the book. 

Leah:
It doesn’t matter to the reader but it matters to us. I mean, we are a tiny bookstore so publishers don’t care about us but we care about what publishers do. We pay attention to, shall we say, publisher ethics.  It says in our mission statement that the people writing the books should be fairly profiting from them as well as us. If a self-published book is done beautifully and we hand it to somebody they don’t know it’s self-published and they don’t care. I think probably 20% of the books we carry are self-published.
 
Bea:
Even more so, the amount of self-published romance that are hits in the community and in the New York Times best-seller list is up there.
 
Leah:
The NYT just announced that they’re eliminating their mass-market paperback best-seller list and we are not happy. We wrote them an angry email. They are specifically targeting books written by women. The number of women on the NYT best-seller list is going to plummet. On the mass-market list it’s 98% women. It’s them and James Patterson and that’s it! 
 
Bea:
It’s particularly disappointing to us to see in this moment, when we need to be lifting up women’s voices and marginalised voices, voices that aren’t traditionally included in the NYT best-seller lists, that you’re going to get rid off all the lists where they could possibly exist.
 
Leah:
Young Adult is the most diverse sector of the publishing industry.
 
Bea:
NYT best-seller list means nothing anymore. These are the best-sellers, these are the books that are selling across the country in Walmarts, Targets - it’s what people are reading. 

 
 
 
Bea reading A Curious Beginning
 
 

GAL:
You recently introduced your women’s fiction section, why?
 
Bea:
Even if we read stuff that’s not romance we find a way to sell it here. L just read Emma Donohue’s The Wonder and because of some other stuff that we’d been talking about we expanded our women’s fiction section.
 
Leah:
It’s mostly because we wanted to carry more books that would make Herr Trump mad! We wanted as many books that had feminism in the title as possible. And we felt that we needed to be selling more important books by women not strictly bound by romance. It’s not a huge section but we wanted to have Zadie Smith and Emma Donohue, Emma Straub and Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I actually had a dream last night that for our next window display we should order sixty copies of We Should All Be Feminists and just paper the walls! 98% of the books we sell are by women writers. The main place you find male writers is in male-male gay romance where we have some very beloved fantastic male writers. 
 
Bea:
Elsewhere it’s mostly women…
 
Leah:
And Tolstoy! 
 
Bea:
What we’re trying to do is lift up classic women who have not been focused on the same way Anna Karenina by Tolstoy has been. 

Their women’s fiction section

Their women’s fiction section

Leah:
There’s such a wonderful male readership of romance, in gay romance and heterosexual, and we don’t like to leave them out but this is a store for women and it’s designed for women, everything is done with women in mind. People are really lovely and compliment us on our décor because it doesn’t really look like a bookstore, it’s a feminine space and we don’t have a problem with that.
 
Bea:
The most upsetting to me is when there’s a man and a woman walking around and you can hear the man denigrating what’s here to his partner who may be interested and he’s just cutting her down. That happens all the time. We’re good but since the election…
 
Leah:
…I don’t care so much anymore about respecting the people who are just rude to us for the sake of being rude. We have a display from a new line called Human is Human from one of our artists we’ve had since we opened. It’s all anti-Trump-themed pins and magnets and brooches and we were like, we’re giving you a whole table. I think we were much more hesitant in our first couple of months about appearing political and now it’s just, we can’t be a feminist sex-positive business and keep our mouths shut. 
 
Bea:
The link between all these things is important to know. If art for women is being so ignored and mocked and denigrated that’s going to seep into other things and if you can’t possibly take seriously a book written by a woman with sex in it, think about that for a minute. Why is it so difficult for you to take it seriously? But we hear it all the time. It’s so subversive.
 
Leah:
And it’s so political. I had this idea – all of our books obviously come in boxes and we have tons and tons of cardboard so I’m going to start cutting apart the cardboard and we’re going to have a box that’s free protest signs! All the stores are out of poster board so you can take our cardboard to make your protest sign! 

Bea (left) holding a copy of Alex & Eliza, & Leah holding a copy of Nora Ephon's Heartburn

Bea (left) holding a copy of Alex & Eliza, & Leah holding a copy of Nora Ephon's Heartburn

 
 

GAL:
Where do you like to read? 
 
Leah:
We’re both bed readers. I have outfitted my bed… I have really bad eyesight so I wear contacts and then I wear reading glasses on top. B made fun of me because I got reading glasses that had lights on them but I didn’t like them so then I got a special light that’s on my wall and I can pull it out so it shines directly on my book but I think it’s cool! I then read a fair amount at the store, at the desk usually in the late evening when my brain is done with work. I’d say I read probably at least two hours a day, maybe fifteen a week.
 
Bea:
I like to read outside a lot and since I moved to LA we have a hammock and chairs on our front porch. I wake up at five in the morning and I go sit on our front porch with my coffee or my tea and my dog and we read and catch up on the news and it’s really nice and quiet. I read in fits and spurts so I’ll go days without reading and I’ll read three books in a row.

 
 
 
Leah lounging upstairs in their use book section.

Leah lounging upstairs in their use book section.

 
 

GAL:
If you could give us your recommendations both for romance novices and experts…
 
Bea:
I like to start with two different people: Julia Quinn if you’re looking for a traditional Regency romance - a big family with lots of siblings all getting married and each with their own obstacles falling in love. Her most popular series is called The Bridgertons, they’re eight books, each book features a different sibling and they are named alphabetically so Anthony is the oldest and Hyacinth is the youngest and they’re so charming and lovely. If you love Julia Quinn then Tess Dare is my current most favourite. She tends to write very nerdy heroines so in A Week to be Wicked she has a palaeontologist heroine who finds a fossil and wants to present it at an academic conference so decides she’s going to go there herself. It’s kind of a road trip romance because the hero follows her, it’s so cute, they’re in a carriage, which is the road trip vehicle of choice so it’s delightful. Beverly Jenkins is my other favourite historical novelist, she writes American historical so it’s very different.
 
Leah:
They are so freaking charming! 
 
Bea:
L just read her new one, Forbidden, she’s going to be here. She has one series that’s about pirates and the final book features a heroine who is a pirate, she steals the hero’s ships and oh my god, it’s so good! It’s a very different historical novel, Regencies tend to be very light and fluffy with ballrooms and dukes, they’re very familiar if you’ve read Jane Austen. The American Historicals tend to focus a little bit more on the exciting part of history…
 
Leah:
Wars! They’re all about wars. 
 
Bea:
I just read an amazing series that’s all about astronauts, which if you loved Hidden Figures
 
Leah:
This would be good for non-novices that are looking for something new. It’s called Star Dust by Emma Barry. 
 
Bea:
It’s about astronauts and the women who loved them in the sixties in Houston…
 
Leah:
It’s about the space race!
 
Bea:
They’re so charming. The first one I read is about a new divorcée who’s on her own for the first time, she has two kids, it’s about being a single mom and falling in love, it is delightful. 
 
I have more! If you really love Jane Austen and you’re looking for who came after her, it’s Georgette Hyere. These books were written in the Twenties and they’re the source material for almost all the historical romance written now. She wrote them for her brother who was sick with consumption, it was a way to amuse him and then she started publishing them and she was a superstar in her own time. In England she continues to be and she hasn’t really made the jump over here, which is really bizarre and shocking to me. 
 
Leah:
My novice contemporary recommendations: Nora Roberts is never going to be a bad place to start. The first Bridal Quartet novel is called Vision in White and it’s always a great starting point, very traditional. If you want to experience what has come to be known as erotic romance - all the plot of romance but way dirtier - I would recommend Christina Lauren and Alisha Rai, her books are fantastic. She was annoyed with all the male billionaire series and wrote a book where the female is a billionaire called A Gentleman in the Streets. If you’re looking for something more issues-based, Courtney Milan is currently writing a contemporary series, the first one is called Trade Me and is one of the best-written contemporary romances I’ve ever read. 
For people more familiar with the genre, I don’t know how you would have missed this last year but, if you did, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne was one of my favourites of last year. Another of our favourite books that we’d like to get more play than it does, is called How Not To Fall by Emily Foster who is notable because Emily is a sex educator in her real life.

Fitzwilliam in a custom monogrammed sweater

Fitzwilliam in a custom monogrammed sweater

 
 

 
GAL
:
We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace.
What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
 
Bea:
Wolf Hall, which is one of my favourite historical novels.
    Harvest, my favourite compilation of Emily Dickinson’s poems –our mother gave me the copy she had in college with all her annotations.
    I’m an Emma girl over Pride and Prejudice, I tend to love difficult heroines so along those lines… 
    It Happened One Autumn is probably my most re-read romance novel. Lisa Kleypas has a series called The Wallflowers that has two sisters and two friends that band together because none of them can get married so they’re going to find each person a husband and each get a book. It Happened One Autumn a prickly heroine - I relate a lot to that heroine! 
 
Leah:
Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren, which has one of my favourite heroes in it because he’s British and also because, and this is really hard to do, he’s really nice but still really hot! 
   The Game Plan by Christine Callaghan is very similar but the hero in that one is a football player but he’s a virgin! It’s really good. I re-read that one all the time. 
   My last one will be Him by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen, which is a male-male hockey romance and it’s so good I stayed up reading it last night. 

 
 
Leah (left), Fitzwilliam , & Bea 

Leah (left), Fitzwilliam , & Bea 

 
 

GAL:
If you could live the life of one of those heroines who would it be?
 
Bea:
I’m not one who romanticizes history. I love history, fuck no would want to live there! First, I’m an ill person chronically so and I would have consumption without a doubt.
 
Leah:
I would want to live in one of the beautiful perfect small towns…
 
Bea:
Mine would be Three Sisters Island.
 
Leah:
That’s such a good call, that’s where I want to live!
 
Bea:
My favourite Nora Roberts are the so-called para-Noras. We would be witches and we could own the bookstore, obviously, and all of the girls marry the police chief…
 
Leah:
Or the scientist who comes to study paranormal activity or in the last one, where she marries her long-lost love. That’s totally where I want to live, we want to live on Three Sisters Island.
 
Bea:
And Fritz as well. 

 
Fitzwilliam

Fitzwilliam

 

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