genres, romance

Romance Tropes: What I like and what I don’t!

Hello gentle reader.  As you may have noticed, I do quite like a good romance novel.  I’m more of a historical romance reader than anything else, but I do sometimes stray into contemporary and to a lesser extent paranormal.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why some books linger on the to-read pile and it’s led to me contemplating what my favourite and least favourite tropes are in the romance genre.  Once you’ve figured out what you like and what you don’t like, it makes it much easier to wade through a genre where there are so many books to chose from.  And it also makes it easier to work out what you might like when you’re trying a different type of romance from the ones you usually read.

Lets start with my pet hates…

Accidental Pregnancies/Secret pregnancies

Oof.  I think this is my absolute least favourite. If an author that I adore writes one of these, I’ll probably read it, but apart from that I give these a wide birth.  I think this is probably all bound up in my own fear of accidental pregnancy, but these do absolutely nothing for me except make me want to scream with rage.  Accidental secret pregnancy plots will have me hurling a book across the room if I happen to encounter them.

Secret Children

Following on from the pregnancy problem, I like secret children only slightly better.  It has to be really good for me to be able to get past the fact that you’ve stopped the child’s father from being a part of their life for x years.  And given that the whole idea of the plot is usually that the heroine will reunite with the father, then the reason’s for the secret tend to be a bit lame/spurious. And as far as contemporary romances go, in the days of the internet and social media it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with people and harder than ever to keep this sort of secret…

Amnesia

Just no. Luckily you don’t find it very often any more (although there is a bit in one of my favourite author’s latest novels, but it’s a late on twist so I just about coped with it) because people have (thankfully) realised that Amnesia is rare, and if you’ve got it, you may well have other stuff going wrong too which is harder to fix.   I can’t think of a single romance with amnesia as a main plot point that I’ve read and enjoyed.  And I’ve been down lists of amnesia romances on Goodreads and it hasn’t jogged my memory either.  I understand there’s a pregnant-with-amnesia sub-genre, which sounds like my idea of hell, although Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a very witty review of the hilariously titled Pregnesia.

My favourites:

Girls dressed up as boys

Twelfth Night has been my favourite Shakespeare play since we studied it when I was 11 (side note: check out the amazing Globe production of it with Oscar Winner (squee) Mark Rylance as Lady Olivia – clip below!) and I love plots with girls dressed up as boys.  From Leonie in These Old Shades, through Harriet in Duchess by Night, Callie in Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake (and that other Sarah MacLean one which not a traditional “breeches” role and is a massive spoiler if you haven’t read the rest of the series) and many more besides, it’s a plot device that will often get me to pick up a new author.  It’s usually only found in Historical Romance although if you know of any good contemporary ones, please put them in the comments!

Fake engagements

This is one has to be deployed cleverly, because breaking an engagement would ruin the heroine socially so she’d have to have a good reason to do it, but it’s popular device in more recently written historicals, there’s something I love about couples who enter into these for nerfarious reasons of their own and get more than they bargain for.  Because of the above social consequences, it’s not a plot often employed by my beloved Georgette Heyer – I can only think of one fake engagement in her books and that’s False Colours, which almost doesn’t count because Kit is pretending to be his twin brother throughout in a lovely twist.  Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I is a great example

Marriages of convenience

Following on from those fake engagements, I do love a marriage of convenience plot, although conversely I think my least favourite Georgette Heyer is  A Civil Contract – but she does have some crackers too like April Lady and Friday’s Child (my mum’s favourite).  When cleverly executed they can be wonderful fun – Eloisa James’s The Ugly Duchess, Mary Balogh’s At Last Comes Love and Quinn’s To Sir Philip with Love is a fun twist on the idea.  To be honest, it’s fairly hard to mess up a marriage of convenience – there are lots of ways a lady can accidentally get compromised – and there’s lots of reasons why people might enter into one (keep lands, escape an evil guardian, get an inheritance etc).

I do read other stuff of course – I like house parties, rake-y heros, beta heros, guardians and wards (but only the sort who don’t do anything about it until the wards are of age), friends to lovers, best friend’s sibling and much much more.  To be honest, beyond my pet hates above there’s not much I won’t give at least one try (except the Tragic Lives aisle of the bookshop). All recommendations for things that might tick any of my boxes are gratefully received – in the comments below please!

American imports, historical, romance

Bodice rippers…

There’s a shelf of books I keep hidden in my spare room.  I’m embarrassed to own them. But some of their genre-mates live in my sitting room bookshelf.  What am I talking about?  Historical romances.

a collage of books
My historical romance collection – can you spot the UK editions and the US ones

You’ll have seen from earlier posts that I’ve got a bit of a thing for Georgette Heyer.  Now a few years back, I started looking for other similar books that I could read – and stumbled into the world of historical romances.  Mostly written by American authors, they’ve beguiled many a happy hour in the years since.  So why the segregation?  Well it’s simple.  In this country (that is the UK) books by writers like Julia Quinn come with nice, innocuous pastel coloured covers.  But where I’ve had to buy in from the US to fill in collections – for example the Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James – they tend to come with busty women breaking free of their dresses on the cover.  I am literally too embarrassed to be seen to own them – let alone be seen out in public with them on the train.

In cases like this – the Kindle is a god-send – no one can see the cover of the book that I’m reading on my e-reader – and unless they’re invading my personal space, they’re not going to know that I’m reading a “bodice-ripper”.  But take one of these babies out in public and I’m embarrassed about people judging me.

books
Some of these spines are not allowed on my downstairs bookshelves…

Now this is, of course, ridiculous.  There is nothing wrong with reading historical fiction or even reading it in public.  Many are very well researched and historically accurate – Eloisa James is actually Mary Bly, a respected Shakespeare professor at Fordham University – and they’re hardly (or at least not often) up their with Fifty Shades of Grey for their explicit content* and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapist fiction anyway.

I’ve read a lot of article recently about people not taking romantic fiction seriously – and I’d suggest that covers like these are part of the reason why.  And some of them aren’t even that accurate when it comes to reflecting the content of the book – whether it is the look of the heroine or the action it portrays.

I also think the American style covers look incredibly retro and naff.  If I had come across them in a bookshop before I’d read some of the authors,  I would never have even thought of picking one of them up – I would have ruled them out as being clichéd, inaccurate and one note – the same way I did with old school Mills and Boons once I’d read a couple of dozen of my gran’s collection.  And they’re not.  For me, the best of them are the logical successors to Georgette Heyer – but with kissing.  And some sex.  Sometimes quite a lot of sex.  But the world has changed since Heyer picked up her pen – and it’s mostly very well written sex.

Eloisa James books
Same author, different countries – completely different cover look!

I’d love to know what it is about the US book-buying public (or how publishers perceive them) that means that the books are packaged and styled like this – and what the authors think of such radical differences.  But until the books start looking a little bit less like a cliché, my American imports will continue to be hidden away at the back of the top shelf of the spare room bookcase!

* I read the Fifty Shades trilogy on my Kindle, in secret, in Poland to make sure no-one would know what I was doing.  And I read it so that I could tell my sister and my mum if they needed to read it.  I concluded they didn’t.