You know what I'm not too keen on in romance story lines? Long, melodramatic separations, where lovers are *ripped apart* and must live their lives without each other for years and years -- marry other people (miserably). Pine away and grow thin and pale. And why? Maybe because one believes the other is dead, while the supposedly dead one is busy being supposedly dead because of some dumb misunderstanding. Or maybe one of them is just an a**hole (which I thought was totally the case in Eva Ibbotson's A Song For Summer which completely put me off, though I love some of her other books.) Anyway, however many drear years later, once they're not young and cute any more, they get to be together. Ick!
I was reading this fat, fat historical by a writer of an award-winning YA novel, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that her adult novels are not so *award-winning.* I mean, they are guilty pleasure books. And there was pleasure, until there wasn't. The historical part was interesting, there was some nice spiciness and she's a good storyteller, but I started sensing a *ripped apart* coming on, so I cheated and skimmed ahead, reading a little here, a little there, and piecing together the terrible maudlin un-fun-ness that was to come. Really. Lies, murder, having to marry a maniac so one's lovechild will not be born out of wedlock when one's true love is off being supposedly dead. And by the time the lovers are reunited, he's "gaunt." Where's the fun in that? I couldn't finish it, knowing what was coming.
The worst case of *ripped apartness* I can remember is [SPOILER ALERT]: Corelli's Mandolin, which I thought was really gripping up until the utterly miserable ending. Talk about the hero becoming an a**hole! Anyone else read that? I didn't see the movie, but I'm guessing they changed the ending, because man did Captain Corelli turn into a suckhole.
I have an uneasy relationship with romance because: I LOVE romance in a story -- in my opinion, any book is better with a dash of spice and yearning (yes, any book; try me) but I HATE goopy icky sentimental shmaltz. It makes me embarrassed for the writer, and for myself. I love the elements of a romance novel -- exotic settings, big feelings -- but I want it to be smart and unembarrassing, with real characterization (well, you know, sort of real. I don't mind them all to be pretty and just a bit more clever than they ought to be!) and a strong plot and an interesting world, be it historical, contemporary, or fantasy.
And I do not want the heroine ever ever EVER to be named something absurd like "Preshy" (short for Precious.) GACK BLAAAGH!!! I came across that in an Amazon review when I was looking up something to do with Italy. I did NOT read the book, nor was I looking to, I swear. It was a random link. Preshy!!! I think I just threw up a little, in my mouth.
The thing is, I DO like guilty pleasure books, sometimes a LOT -- I loved Company of Swans even though the it was a little embarrassing and the heroine was shiningly and perfectly GOOD. And I devoured the totally guilty Black Jewels Trilogy, blushingly, because man, I should not have liked those books. But I DID. And I learned some things about storytelling from them, because guilty and embarrassing or not, Anne Bishop knows how to never give you a place to close the book. Ever. Until the end. That's a skill to study up on, wherever you find it.
Anyway. I haven't really explored my *smart romance* options too much because I denied to myself for oh so long that I like romance in a book. I denied fantasy too. Being an English major can teach you to deny fun in reading! Maybe one of the reasons YA is so awesome is that it mingles elements like this so effortlessly, and without going overboard into the land of embarrassment. Well. I don't know. I just thought of some obvious exceptions to that premise. Maybe it's not true!
Thoughts on romance? Any total pet peeves? Examples of delicious absurdity? Recommendations?
Some books I loved that have romance in them are:
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (YA, cross-over)
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (YA, fairy tale)
Ever by Gail Carson Levine (YA, mythic)
Dream Girl by Lauren Mechling (YA, very teen)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
I'm sure I'm leaving out some major ones. This was mostly gleaned from skimming my Goodreads or just the few on the tip of my mind. I want to clarify that I don't read "romance novels", not bodice-rippery things, that's too much guilty and no pleasure. For me. Outlander-type books are about as guilty as I get, and yes, that's a romance novel, but it's not a churned-out one. It even had a *ripped apart* as I recall, and maybe that's why I didn't read the second one -- I think I read the beginning and lost the will to continue. Anyway. Others?
And for fun, I just randomly found these, um, altered covers, on the web. Funny!
P.S. Forgive me for being too lazy to put in links. Any of the above books will pop up on Amazon if you're interested.
[Oh! And my belly has been fizzy as a fish tank today. Not in any way I've quite felt before, so I can only assume it's a little someone swimming around, but I can't be sure. It's gurgly and burbly. So odd! Is it Small Human doing this?]