Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What I've Learned About Romance (Novels)

I consider myself to be a pretty silly and hopeless romantic.  My favorite TV shows, movies, books will almost always have some element of romance in their DNA.  But I haven't historically been a big fan of romance novels.  I remember that one of my favorite books of my pre-teen/teen years (and I still own it) was Savage Spirit by Meg Cameron.

Savage Spirit (Dawn of Love, #3)
It's about a frontier girl who is kidnapped by Indians and falls in love with one of the young braves, Blue Quail. On reflection, I realize now, that it's probably an unrealistic, and perhaps racist, portrayal of Native Americans. Moving swiftly on... This along with Jane Austen, Disney's The Little Mermaid, and Gone With The Wind probably shaped my entire romantic notions of life.  But Savage Spirit was really the last Romance novel with a capital R that I remember reading.

Until about 4-5 years ago.  This is when I heard Nancy Pearl expressing her love for Georgette Heyer.  Heyer wrote in the early to mid part of the 20th century and she is best known for the prodigious number of Regency Era romances she wrote.  They are marvelous.  They don't quite have the depth and subtlety of Austen but they are a complete joy to read - witty and smart with characters you wish you knew.  And even though she wrote so many they were all unique, I could read several in a row without tiring of them.  And, of course, the naughtiest thing that happens is a kiss or perhaps a cuddle or two.  But still squeal-inducingly romantic.

This whet my appetite for romantic books and I figured the best place to look for these was in the romance genre.  My astuteness has by now wowed you.  But truly, finding a good romance novel was A LOT harder then I imagined.  I was getting into the genre cold and had no clue to which authors I should gravitate.  I picked up a couple of historical romances that looked interesting story-wise.  I don't remember the authors or the books but they were truly appalling.  I am not the most intellectual of readers but these books would have caused permanent damage from the amount of eye-rolling and grimacing they induced.

I did some research and eventually found a few authors I enjoyed (see below).  I still have a lot of exploration to do but I've learned some things and I wanted to share them with the aim of hopefully helping others find their way into the genre.  But I have to say that, in any real sense you shouldn't listen to me at all.  There are a bunch of great bloggers out there that have much more knowledgeable and thorough guidance to give.  Really this is just me shooting my mouth off about something I only know a little about :0).  Fun!
  • The current day romance world has a bit more erotic flair than Ms. Heyer.  And by a bit I mean a LOT.  It almost seems that there's a formula to it which dictates when in the book the first sexy scene must appear, followed by some unforeseen conflict, followed by a reconciliatory climax (climax...hee,hee) involving more mind blowing sex.  It's porn for ladies and some authors do it better than others.  I say it's porn for ladies specifically because there is always an emphasis on the emotions involved along with the down and dirty.  I'm not averse to the a little naughtiness but it does seem like the sex has become the central thrust (see what I did there) of the romance.  The books I love most are those that weaken your knees with every interaction of the hero and heroine and the intimacy is a natural progression from the forming bond.

  • Romance reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon are apparently super nice.  Too nice.  I've found that I shouldn't trust the ratings of romance novels on these sites.  I'll see a book that has an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 and think wow I need to get that book...only to find that its nothing special.  The blogosphere seems to be a little more reliable at least for me.

  • The Heroes:  There seem to be an inordinate amount of Alpha males with a capital A. I know we ladies, against our wills almost, are programmed (genetically speaking) to be drawn to the strongest man in the room but it can get old.  Hot, but tiresome.  I've always preferred King Arthur over Lancelot. An argument could be made that both those men are Alphas but in my view of them (which stems primarily from "The Once and Future King" and the musical "Camelot" which is not the historic view) Lancelot is more the vision of brute male alpha-ness while Arthur's the intellectual, geeky male with a sense of responsibility and vision.  Essentially, Arthur's the more complex and I wish he was the hero a little more often in the romances I read. 

  • Humor is essential.  This is completely a personal preference thing but I can not handle a romance that takes itself too seriously.  For me, the romance genre is NOT about realism - it's lovely, feel-good, nonsense.  This is such a requirement for me that the occasional witty quip isn't enough if there are a lot of other weighty issues in the book.  It has made it hard for me to like some favorite authors like Mary Balogh who I find to be too earnest and Courtney Milan who writes very interesting heroines but who also has her characters have real problems.  Horrors!  However they are both good writers if you aren't as fluffy headed as I.

  • There are several sub-genres of romance as there are for most genres.  Why this was surprising to me I don't know.  Because I am looking for books as far from reality as possible my favorite sub-genres are Historical and Paranormal and I have recently read a couple Romantic Suspense. I do not generally enjoy Contemporaries.  I've also not really delved into Erotic or Inspirational.   Historicals are my most favorite and I've explored the most in this sub-genre though my reading is certainly not extensive.  Paranormal has been even more hit or miss with me I think because the heroes in these books tend to be major Alphas if they are not done just so, I don't like them.  Popular authors like J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon don't work super well for me as a result but they may work for you.  J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood is one of the most well-loved paranormal series out there so even though I couldn't get into the first book there is a good chance you may love it.

  • I mentioned that I had a bit of trial and error before I hit on some authors who work for me. These are some of my favorites:
    • Historical Romance (mostly Regency Era and Victorian)
      • Georgette Heyer of course who started my whole reintroduction to romance.  Some of my favorites of hers are Frederica, Devil's Cub, Arabella, The Convenient Marriage and The Corinthian.
      • Julia Quinn - The Bridgerton series is great though I did get stalled because of a disappointment with book 4. Her writing style is fun though - lots of great banter!
      • Lisa Kleypas - She has a couple of series that I really like  - The Hathaways and The Wallflowers.  Devil in Winter and Tempt Me at Twilight are probably my favorites of hers.
      • Sarah MacLean - My new most favoritest.  I love her so she wrecks my English.  I've loved all the books I've read by her but probably my favorite is One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.
      • Eloisa James - For me she's a step down from the four ladies above but I've read a couple by her and enjoyed them. 
      • Others that have been recommended to me: Tessa Dare and Loretta Chase.
      • I just found this lovely blog post and as a result think I will add Anne Gracie to my list of authors to check out: Top Ten Historical Romance Authors on Historical Romance Addict
    • Paranormal Romance (I've explored less here and tend to run into problems)
      • Kresley Cole - I adore her Immortals After Dark series and I'm not entirely sure I can explain it because they are CHOCK FULL of Alpha males.  The women are equally feisty and strong-willed and the books are total romps.  Her sex scenes are some of the most...original...I've come across and they are super naughty so if that isn't your thing, beware.  Urban Fantasy - Contemporary Setting.
      • Kathryne Kennedy - Her books are a little more hit or miss but they are set more in a sword and sorcery, historical fantasy type setting so they're different. 
      • Ilona Andrews - I honestly don't think Andrews' books are romance - they are Urban Fantasy but they are super awesome and have a pretty strong romance element.  The Kate Daniels series is fantastic!
The romance genre has a stigma attached to it and it is definitely not for every reader but there is so much good storytelling out there.  I for one have a place in my reading for some happily ever after:0)! Amy romance readers out there?  Throw out some additional tips or must-read authors that you think are above average.

And now for some fun made possible only by romance novels.

Hello my name is Savannah SweetElectra and I met my true love while fighting for truth and justice in the Mojave Desert.  How about you?

May you have only Happy Endings! XOXO

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