Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Let's Talk About.....Romance!

I have a confession to make.

It's not a very cool thing to own up to in the group of lit bloggers I associate and hang out with the most.

I love romance.

And no, I'm not talking about the Pride and Prejudice variety.

At the end of the day, I love a lot of different genres. But the stories that sweep me away, that grab my heart, that stay on my shelf? They usually have one thing in common....a good romance!

I love the big epic romances. The fight to be together, whatever it takes, over years, lives lost, and wars. Heart pounding romances.

It's why Julie Lessman's books work so well for me...they are exactly that!

So now I ask you like romances? Please consider your favorite books and whether or not they have a romance at the heart of them. I'm not just talking about category romances here. I'm talking about epic romances!

What are your favorite romance stories? What elements do you like to see in a romance book? What makes you believe?

Why do you think there's a prejudice against romance in some areas of the literary community? What books are considered classic romances that shouldn't be?

I eagerly await your thoughts! Don't forget! There's a big contest going on this week and commenting on this post in a relevant way will give you an extra entry!



bermudaonion said...

I don't consider myself much of a romance reader. I don't mind some romance in a story, I just don't want it to be the whole story. I think some people see romance novels as fluff, but I think everyone should read the genre they enjoy.

Jen said...

You're comment box is odd... I can't copy and paste text which I usually do to make sure my spelling is correct first - and the spell checker that I have with my browser doesn't work in it... oh well I'll try a coment anyway.

I usually end up saying that romance is my least favorite genre, however I really don't like it when it's the entire story. I also find most of the usual plots of how people get together rather boring. Which is funny when you consider that Science Fiction (or really any genre) has similer standard plot lines that are probably just as boring to those who don't like science fiction or fantasy.

I think the main issue is that I have a problem with the idea that the women MUST fall in love with a guy and it's imparative that they get married and start a family or whatever. Like there's nothing better for a woman to do than to have a man in their lives. Yes, it's natural for people to fall in love but I think it can be done without acting as though it's the only thing a woman can do with their lives. Or without reducing the women to an object to be obtained by a man. Maybe I've just read the wrong stories in the past but the above has really turned me off to the genre.

I think my favorite romances would be those that are already established where both parties have their own jobs and roles within the story but they also happen to be a couple. Zoe and Wash on Firefly is a perfect example of this. Wash may have occasionally wanted his wife to not be in danger but he never really tried to stop her from doing anything - he may have protested a few times but he didn't act as though he could stop her. Nor would Zoe have ever let him get away with trying to stop her.

Julie Lessman said...

I have a confession to make -- I used to be a "romance snob" -- one of those professional women who wouldn't be caught dead reading romance. The classics, nonfiction, the Bible ... was pretty much all I read because frankly, like a lot of the market, I looked down on "romance." I mean everybody knows it's just fluff and escapism, right? The LAST thing I wanted was to be caught with a romance in my purse or hands.

Uh, that all changed in June 2001 when I was reading a Newsweek cover article about how Christian books, music and movies were on the threshold of exploding ... a billion-dollar industry that wasn't being met. I felt like somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Now is the time to finish your book." I started writing A Passion Most Pure a month later, and as God is my witness, I felt like I had been set free from years of bondage. Suddenly I didn't care what anyone thought anymore because I was free to write what my heart longed to write from the age of 12 (which is when I first started writing my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure). ROMANCE -- exploring the ebb and flow of deep, honest and flawed relationships and seeing what would happen with God in the middle.

Favorite romance stories??? Oh, Gone With the Wind, Mark of the Lion Trilogy by Francine Rivers, Liz Curtis Higgs Scottish trilogy, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and anything by Tamera Alexander.

Linda said...

I like romance stories that are "real." Maybe based on a true rendition of someone's life. I don't want them to just be titilating--but something to show us God's view on sexuality and romance. A mutual love relationship with respect.
As for favorite romance stories--can't think of any, as I'm just getting into the genre. I do think Eugenia Price's books are great.

Meghan said...

You know I love romance too! I read regular romance and while some of it does have emotional/meaningful depth, for the most part it's just for fun. It's easy to get caught up and swept away by them. I'm with you on epic romances though, those are what make up some of my favorite books. My favorites are when it's an integral part of the story but not all of the story. This is the reason I love the Kushiel's Legacy series so much, because there is a huge epic romance going on but there is also so much more.

My romances don't have to have happy endings either. Some of the best I've ever read have finished in tragedy. Mostly I like romance because I find it adds a level of emotional connection to the characters which I might not feel otherwise.

I think there is a prejudice against romance mostly because it's seen as porn for women, largely read by those who are desperate. This is certainly not true in my case and probably not in the case of most romance readers. (I'm often relieved when I find I'm reading a book without the token sex scene!) There is also plenty of sex in other genres, so I'm not sure why romance gets such a beating for this. I don't think the trashy covers help, though! IMO, I've read romance novels that if packaged as historical fiction or chick lit would get along just fine with readers of those genres. Also goes the other way - have read historical fiction that has the depth of a harlequin romance. Romance and love are essential parts of most people's live, so why wouldn't we want to read about them? They contain experiences that many of us can relate to in a setting that perhaps is a little further out from our experience, adding to the magic but not removing that relatable element. It has to be believable, but that has been accomplished over and over again. I can understand not personally enjoying a story focused on romance, but I don't understand the literary bias against it. In my opinion, fantasy/sci-fi/thrillers/etc. should suffer just as much if we're criticizing formulaic plots and stereotypical characters.

I don't know if that comment makes sense, mostly just my thoughts recently!

Mollie said...

I started reading romances when I was in grad school. I wanted something completely different from the dry, scientific, matter of fact stuff I had to read for school. I love the romance genre because there's ALWAYS a happily ever after. Life is hard enough with enough unhappily ever after endings that I want to have a happy ending when I escape into a book.

I love all kinds of romance genres I really enjoy contemporaries but my all time favorite series is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. To me, it's the epitome of epic romance!

Sarah said...

I to am embarrased to say that I love romances. I think that there's this stigma that they are women's fluff books and have no real literary value. I think enjoyment is the only value books are supposed to have, right?
I agree with Mollie above, the Outlander series is one of my all time favorites! It took me many years to get over James Frazier. *Sigh*

Jen - devourer of books said...

I have to say, I'm not really a fan. Historical fiction that gets too-romance-y drives me crazy. Lately, though, I've found that I don't mind the occasional (preferably historical) romance, provided it doesn't really have any sex scenes. I think that's what bothers me most, really, especially because a lot of the sex scenes are super cheesy. Plus, I'm just not interested in reading about it. Of course, when I say I've enjoyed some recently I mean things like Georgette Heyer, which is a little more Jane Austen-y.

That being said, I don't have anything against other people reading romances. I'm not usually going to read people's reviews of romances (particularly if they have really trashy covers) because I'm just not interested, but I don't think less of them as a reader or reviewer for enjoying them.

Gaby317 said...

I enjoyed Joanna Lindsay's Malory series and Julie Garwood's regency romances as well. I love it when the heroines are spunky, get into trouble, and breathtakingly gorgeous while the men are witty, wonderful fighters, confirmed bachelors but suddenly tamed.

But it seems more acceptable to read detective novels and chicklit than straight romance. The covers don't help though - the books with subtler covers are easier to take out and read when waiting in line or on the subway!

But if it's a good book and fun read, I'll take it!

gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

Jill D. said...

I love romance too. I read all genres of books, but the thing they all have in common for me is a thread of romance. I once asked my friend who pretty much only sticks with general fiction, if she knew what the difference between romance and general fiction was. She whispered, "Is it the sex?" I laughed at that, because I think that is what most people associate with romance. In actuality, I told her that most general fiction has sex in it, the difference is in a romance you get a guarantee that the characters don't die at the end, they live happily ever after. I think most people don't realize this.

According to RWA (Romance Writers of America) they define a romance as the following:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Sorry, don't mean to get on my soap box, but I do wish people would open their minds.

I think today's romances are quite different from twenty years ago. I have read both and while I enjoy both, the books from today feature a more modern woman, one who does not define herself by a relationship with a man.

My personal favorites are Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and A Kingdom of Dreams and Perfect by Judith McNaught and also The Warlord Trilogy by Elizabeth Vaughn. She is really good too!

Ti said...

When I was in high school I used to read a lot of romance novels. Historical Romance to be exact. I enjoyed them and zipped through 600 page chunksters in no time.

These days though, they just don't do it for me. I gravitate toward literary fiction that is on the heavier side. I sit in front of a computer all day for work so I need the mental stimulation.

Eva said...

I don't read romances, except for a Georgette Heyer every once in awhile, but I don't look down on them!

Darlene said...

I've never liked really sappy romance stories like Harlequin. I do like a romance that has meaning behind it, the kind that tug at your heart. I also enjoy a romance with some comedy for light reading once in a while. My favorite though remains Gone With the Wind and The Thornbirds is another that comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

Amy, that's interesting you like the romance =) I'm not a sappy romance type but something like Gone with the Wind and Wuthering Heights I do find a little romantic. I did read Judith McKnight I think that's her name, she has a romance that is set in two different centuries where one couple was destined to meet based on what happened to the couple in the same house in the previous century. I was hooked I loved it!

Becky said...

I have to admit, this is a REALLY interesting thing to consider. Why ARE we so prejudice against romance & those who love it? I actually had a friend in my MA English program who did her masters thesis on romance novels. You would walk in her office and see stacks of romance novels on her shelves, and watch her pour through a 1200 page "steam fest" (as we called them), while we struggled through Salman Rushdie, or something similar! It's funny, because there were snickers throughout the department about her and the project, but I find the social aspect of "why" really funny. Part of it was the "feminist" element that felt those base, romantic desires by women to be shallow (although too true in most "basic" sorts of ways), and often degrading to women--you know paining females as swooning or flaunting women. Is there an answer, no. She covered all the biased ideas people had, whether correct or not, and why. I just thought it was interesting to consider.

As for me, I guess I don't always advertise my leanings towards several romance novels, but will readily admit that I have quite a few that I really love. For instance, I like the Gabaldon series, a couple of Meg Cabot's adult (stand alone) novels, Seducing Mr. Darcy had me in stitches (laughing...not otherwise), and lots of chick lit (which is romance disguised as the modern girl peril novel). Whether we praise it or not, it taps into a very real emotional need in many of us, and allows us to escape into fantasy worlds. Who wouldn't love that from time to time? :)

crittyjoy said...

You are a friend after my own heart Sweet Amy! I am so with you on the romance subject... It is definitely my favorite genre! And I love a good historical romance, or a suspenseful romance! I think that is why Julie's books always drew me in too....they are so romantic, and real.

I am a Nora Roberts fan because she knows how to write a wonderful romance...with lot of tension. I like tension :) haha! I read a lot in the genre and would have a hard time picking just a few favorites.


Britt said...

A good love story is great, but unless there's something else going on, I tend to get bored. It's just not my style.

And honestly, I avoid romance because so many of them have way too much sex. Plain and simple.

Shannon C. said...

I do love romances. I didn't start reading them in earnest until I went back to college and needed light reading during my commutes--my school is about an hour away from my house. I do admit that a lot of romance, like a lot of other stuff out there, is horrible. but the stuff that works for me does tend to be more feminist in nature. The hero and heroine are together because they both want to be, not because the hero sees the heroine and grabs onto her like a selfish toddler. I also want to have the sense that the couple in question is meant to be together, not because the author said so, but because they compliment each other. (Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are a perfect example.) Also, some Harlequins pack quite a punch. Janice Kay Johnson writes contemporary romances published by Harlequin, and, though I haven't read everything she's written, I've loved what I have read and would definitely recommend her for people looking for emotional resonance and genuine, believable characters.

Anonymous said...

I love romances although I don't admit it to a lot of people because they assume it's those books where it's just full of sex with a sketchy story on top of it. That is so not what I am talking about. I love most genres of romance. My favorites have been:
Classic-Pride and Prejudice!

Paranormal-Christine Feehan's Ghostwalker series, Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter

Historical-Julie Garwood (not a big fan of her contemporary books though), Johanna Lindsey's Mallory series, Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series

Young Adult-Twilight, Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare

Chick Lit-Something Blue by Emily Giffin

Roseanna White said...

I am a romance SUCKER. If a story doesn't have at least a little bit of a love story, I don't generally like it. I read mainstream romances for escapism (Nora Roberts being my favorite) and Christian Romances most of the time.

I went to a highly academic college, where everyone read Aristotle and Plato and Newton, etc. I always had a romance with me in class. A classmate once asked me, "Why do you have non-program books all the time?" I replied, "To preserve my sanity. You drink. I read."

Favorite romances . . . Julie's, of course =) And Nora Roberts in the mainstream realm. Francine Rivers' stuff, yes, though many are more "love story" than "romance."

Once upon a time, I felt like I had to apologize for my taste in books. Then I decided that I deserved to love them. I have an awesome marriage with a wonderful man, and that on-going romance makes my life so sweet . . . why wouldn't I want to read stories about others finding that same happiness? And when I write, you can bet there's a BIG romance in it! I think the secret is to write relationships, not just romances. It isn't about lust and sex--it's about love. When you illustrate the difference correctly, the stories become more than just "trash." They become honest to goodness GOOD BOOKS.

Unknown said...

Here's the thing: when I was in Junior high school I was a sucker for Harlequin romance, I would literally devour the books. But then i guess I got romance overload and stopped reading from the romance genre for years. I have just recently rediscovered this whole section of fiction (not necessarily Harlequins)and am enjoying it. However, I do know what you mean about the romance epics or plots in any novel. I have always liked historical fiction for that reason because unavoidably, a good historical fiction will always have a romance element in it. My favorite one which I read seven years ago but still remember with great affection is Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. The love story between the infamous captain and his much younger wife was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, I couldn't stop weeping towards the end and I definitely will re-read it.

Chrisbookarama said...

It's not my favorite genre but I do read them. I think part of the problem is that the genre is so huge that to a lot of people it looks like they are churned out and therefore of little literary value. Also when there is so much of one genre there is bound to be a lot of not so great ones, but when you do find a good one...ah, it's worth it. I like some Happily Ever After.

The problem is also, IMO, a matter of history. Women were the writers of these books. If Hemmingway wrote romances, would they be given such a hard time? Doubtful. They were seen as the escapism of the housewife. Times have changed but perceptions didn't. But I think things are changing and the genre is slowly gaining respect. The 'novel' itself had a hard time for years. Now reading for pleasure is encouraged.

As for the s..e..x (shh!) you can have as little or as much as you like depending on the writer. There is something for every taste.

BurtonReview said...

I would never have thought to say I read romance, but I do of course read romance :) I enjoy anything that is a good story, that keeps me interested and something that beckons to be read by me.
The first romance that comes to mind is Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, and Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights. I also just read some Georgette Heyer books and I really enjoyed those since they were 'clean'. I am not one for the erotic romance.
As far as series goes, there is always Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich which had me laughing out loud a few years ago when I was pregnant; hose were needed comic relief and the Ranger/Morelli Duo is just a hoot.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Epic romance - yeah I can get into that! But I don't generally read genre romance. I'm not a snob about it though. It's just as a fan of high concept novels, I tend to gravitate towards premises more unique than boy meets girl. So yeah, something like The Time Travellers Wife catches my attention most definitely.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh yes, I love the fluff and escapism of romance. In fact, I struggle with books that don't have at least some romance in them. I've enjoyed alot of Gilbert Morris's books, of course, The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, and anything by Lynn Kurland. I will, of course, and Julie Lessman to the list, when I get my first book in the mail really soon!!!

Memory said...

I don't read many books that are marketed as romance, but I do love a good romantic storyline... by which I mean that I'm a total sucker for a love story that rips my heart out and stomps on it. I want angst! Tension! People who should be together but are continually thrust apart! Terrible misunderstandings! The works! I love a good, heartwrenching love story where the two parties come together only after scads of trials and tribulations.

RAnn said...

I enjoy romances. Sometimes I'm even in the mood for a Harlequin or drugstore bodice buster--they are fun mindless reads with happy endings and a little candy never hurt anyone. I especially like it when a romance writer can address a serious story within the context of a good romance. Lisa Kleypas' novel Sugar Daddy deals with the struggles poor single moms face in trying to make it in today's world. Blue Eyed Devil deals with domestic abuse. I can't say I've seen much depth to her historical novels that I've read, but they are good fun romances, with better than average writing.

Beth Kephart said...

Romance — it's such a loaded word. Meaning something different to everyone, I think (just ask my husband, who has yet to warm up to anything involving white tablecloths, candles, or pink bouquets, but is a dear Latin man nonetheless). I don't read classic romance novels, but I do think love is an important storyline, for it is complicated, complex, novel worthy. Michael Ondaatje's novels are romance to me—romance and history and knowledge and life.

Most important: You must read what you want to read. You deserve to curl up with anything that makes you happy.

Beth F said...

Okay first let me say that reading is reading and whatever anyone wants to read is fine by me. I make no judgments that way.

I don't read romances because I find them really boring. They seem so predictable, and the characters are often stereotypes. How many woman can be captured by the horrible pirate who eventually turns out to be sexy and wonderful. And the sex is always great and everything always works out.

The Outlander series is pretty much the only romance I've ever read that I really liked. But the plots are more complex and the books become less romance-y as the series progresses.

Now let me put on my editor's hat, and my attitude changes completely. I absolutely love to edit romances. I don't know why, but romance manuscripts are among the cleanest I've ever worked on. I love the romance authors I've worked with because my job is fun and easy. (No, I won't tell you which books I've worked on.) Every romance manuscript I've worked on has shown good, solid writing, and I can't always say that about the more literary novels I've edited (and no I won't tell you about them, either).

Elizabeth said...

I don't read a lot of novels that would be classified as strictly romance, but I love a novel that has a good romance. And I have to admit - Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook makes me cry every time!

Amee said...

I'd list romance as the thing I most want to read. Combine it with comedy and I'm bound to love it. I got hooked on romance when I was 10 and my grandmother gave me my first Christian romance novel (A Gown of Spanish Lace by Janette's the novel I've reread the most!).

I don't know how epic it is but Christy by Catherine Marshall is a great "epic" love story. Anne of Green Gables too. There's a lot of will they/won't they in that series as well.

I hate literary snobs who look down on romance and try and make me feel bad or inferior for reading it. They just don't want to admit it's something they like to read too!

Anonymous said...

Yep, but I rarely admit to it. :-D And I certainly don't blog about it, because that's just a debate I never wanted to enter into. And it's nice to know that there are still some books I can truly escape into without thinking about what to blog about them.

I used to read a lot more romance, but I still occasionally read romantic suspense and some of the paranormal stuff. And I will confess to loving J.R. Ward's BDB series, which is way more hardcore than anything that has been mentioned so far.

Renee (BlacknGoldGirlsBookSpot) said...

Oh my! Romances are pretty much ALL I read!!! I don't think I have anything else on my shelf...seriously! I don't read the really steamy books, I lean more towards Christian romance with some YA romance thrown in the mix. I just saw recently that the romance book industry is REALLY doing well, who doesn't want everything to end up peachy keen when times are so uncertain?

As far as epic romances...I think Gone With the Wind (uh it says epic right on the cover LOL), Jane Eyre, Prie and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights have to be top of my list with all the passion, drama, and action who can argue it?! Some of MY favorite romances are Lynn Austin's Refiner's Fire series (gotta love Civil War romances), Deeanne Gist's A BRIDE IN THE BARGAIN, Tamera Alexander's REKINDLED, Julie Lessman's Daughters of Boston series (Collin Mitch, Brady...need I say more?), Jamie Carie's SNOW ANGEL, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series (Edward...*sigh*) and so many more I could go on and on. :-D

And I have to say that a lot of the bad feelings or stigma or whatever associated with romances have to deal with some of the crazy covers...really who goes around with no shirt on with their hair flowing in the breeze, or their dress falling off their body? :-P

Another great question Amy!!!!

Jen said...

I don't know why you are embarrassed to admit that you love a good romance. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and I totally agree! I'm going to bookmark this post and read back through the comments to get ideas for books that people suggested because I'm always up for a great love story.

Alix said...

I do like a romance element in everything I read but it doesn't tend to be the sole focus. If it is the books tend to be historical. I have absolutely NO idea why that is.

But romance rules :)

CherylS22 said...

I like to read romance novels, but feel that some of them are way over the top & so unbelievable. I like the ones that deal with everyday people in everyday situations. I also like the ones that are thrillers that bring the couple together.


Jenny Girl said...

THere are many categorries of romance imho, but my choice for epic romance would have to be The Outlander series. Jaime and Claire have so much going on, and then there is the time travel element.
I can't think of another one at the moment, although I know there are plenty.

Carole said...

I confess to loving a good romance, and am lousy at explaining why or what I look for. I just know when I find it. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston - Read this in high school and plan on reading again; it's a classic.

Tender Victory by Taylor Caldwell - Another classic. Story of small-town Pennsylvania preacher who adopts several WWII orphans. Romance is between Johnny and the newspaper editor's daughter.

The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough - No happy ending here though.

There's many more, but I can't think of them at the moment. If you asked about movies, I could name several - like The Sound of Music, Dr. Zhivago, and the recent Australia.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Carole said...

I just remembered another romance - Dawn's Early Light and the whole Williamsburg series by Elswyth Thane. Each book is set during a war, the first being during the Revolutionary War.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

Ali said...

I've thought about doing a topic similar to this for Weekly Geeks at some point--romance for the non-romance reader. I'm game for some romance in a book as long as the book has the other elements I look for (great characterization, beautiful writing, unpredictability, etc.). The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite books with a strong romantic element. Michael Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World is another one.

Jeanne said...

I started reading romance novels when I was at home nursing babies and another new mom would bring over sacks of romances her mom had passed on. I discovered I like Nora Roberts, and my friend likes Julie Garwood.

She still brings me a few, and I still read them, but I usually keep them in my car as something to read if I haven't brought anything else. A romance novel is fine with me, here and there, but a steady diet of them just isn't intellectually nutritious enough to keep me going.

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