20 November 2008

What I Like in a Romance Novel

Even though I am trying to be less of a snob when it comes to reading, I still have mixed feelings about romances. My image of romance novels was shaped by the Harlequin romances I encountered in my teens. Many of the girls I knew (and their moms) consumed them by the basketful, probably because they were cheap to buy and quick to read. I read a few myself back then, but it didn't take me long to see that they were all 150-page paperbacks with a predictable formula: Boy meets Girl, they hate each other due to some misunderstanding, obstacle is removed, Boy declares undying love for Girl. However, today's romances don't all fit into that mode and I'm ready to give them another chance.

So what makes a good romance for me? I say "for me" because everyone likes something different in their love stories. I'm sure there are still people out there who are comfortable with the repetitive nature of Harlequins. This list is about the traits that make me give a romance the thumbs-up:

1. I like them to be at least 250 pages. When I first picked up A Hopeless Romantic from the library, I was shocked to find that it was 530 pages long. I was accustomed to romances being those slim volumes that you can find in the end cap at the grocery store and have halfway finished by the time you make it through the checkout line. After reading three more novels that were at least 100 pages longer than I expected, I found that I like romances to have a little room to spread out.

2. If it is a Christian romance, it should be up-front about its Christianity. I'm new to the world of Christian romances, but I've already formed an opinion based on the three I've read this month. Two of them quoted Bible verses and had dialogue between various characters about living the Christian life. Some may find that preachy, but I wouldn't be reading a Christian novel if I didn't want a little preaching :-). The third novel barely had anything in it to tell me that it was supposed to be an inspirational novel. In my opinion, you can't have the characters say "Thank God" a couple times and call the book a Christian romance.

3. The characters should have something else going on in their lives besides the romance. It shouldn't be a simple "My mother hates you so we can't be together" sort of thing, either. In How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls, the main character had a real issue with her job that had little to do with her romance. I want the characters in the romance to have a well-rounded life.

4. An old-fashioned setting works best for me. I'm not saying that I would never read a modern romance, but it is easier for me to swallow the unabashed sweetness of a love story if it is set in a less cynical time. Castles and English moors don't do it for me, though. I think my favorite setting right now is the American West in the 1800s. Perhaps it's because I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie :-).

What makes a good romance novel for you? Do you like modern or historical? Do you like sassy and funny characters or lovers who are deadly earnest in their yearning for one another? If you have any favorite titles, please let me know. I would especially like some direction as far as Christian romance, since I am new to that scene.


Lisa said...

I am not a fan of Harlequin's historicals, or MOST of their contemp. lines. I like both historical and contemporary, but tend to read more historical. I don't like the big misunderstanding plot line, they need to have a real problem or reason for whatever happens. My very favorite are ones that they are friends who suddenly realize they are in love, and fight it. I love the moment of realization.

I don't read any Christian fiction so I can't help ya there.

Shelia said...

I like contemporary romances. I love stories with a twist. Something going on outside of the actual romance. Throw in some mystery and suspense and it's definately a winner.

Lisa said...

The Harlequin's I like are the Blaze line, which are a little sexier, and less than 200 pages. I don't actually ever remember that the Red Dress Ink books are put out by Harlequin. I want to like them, but honestly they often feel like imitation chick lit in the same way that some of the Harlequins feel like a substandard full length romance. This is not to say that there aren't great ones of each!

I tend to pick up a lot of Avon romances, but I don't know if that because I like what they publish or that they publish authors I like.

Dani in NC said...

Sheila: I'm with you. I like the book to have something else going on that is running alongside the romance rather than interfering with it.

Lisa: I revisited a Harlequin romance recently and it was worse than I remember. I don't want to rag on the writers because if I could write it and sell it to support my family, I would. I don't want to rag on the people who love reading them, either, because everyone needs to have something at their level to read. However, I can't read them. The Harlequins I have read were too short and the conflicts in them were trivial.

I've never really noticed the publisher of the books. I recognize Harlequins simply because they seem to market the Harlequin brand more than individual authors. I also recognize Tyndale as a Christian publisher. Other than that I look for authors instead of publishers.