My son, who especially likes Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files, says he doesn’t see why anyone would write a book without a wizard in it. I don’t see why anyone would write a book without a little romance in it.
(For everyone who was not an English major, let me elaborate: Frankenstein’s Monster was a romantic book in the literary sense, meaning it is a book of much imagination, of fantasy even, and of sentiment, emotion, insight – as opposed to an emphasis on reason and logic. Contrast that with a Tom Clancy novel. Not that Clancy has no emotion, but it’s really all about the plot. What I’m talking about is the publishing industry sense of Romance: a story primarily about two people struggling with obstacles so that they can be together and have their HEA, happy-ever-after.)
Now the caveats: I very much admire The Road by Cormac McCarthy. That certainly is not a romance, though there is plenty of love there between father and son. Lee Child’s novels about Jack Reacher are also not love stories. Plenty of lust, not least among the female readers, but with a couple of exceptions, Jack’s deepest heart is not involved in the liaisons he strikes up – and I love those books too. So enough with the except fors.
Even “men’s writers” generally throw some romance in there. My husband and I have read several of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series about the British soldier during the Napoleonic War. Very much about the camaraderie among the men, about the scheming and tactics of war in Spain, about honor and pride. But even Sharpe has a few scenes showing he has a heart and a woman trying to claim it. Same with Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy. I love the historical aspects of these books, but I also want the love stories to keep me going. (That is not to label those books as Romances. The man and the woman trying to find their way to a happy-ever-after is not what those books are “about.”)
I do enjoy a good Romance, with a capital R, as well – if you’re a novice Romance reader, try Jennifer Crusie’s little gem Bet Me for contemporary, riotous humor, Mary Balogh’s books for sentiment and high-emotion, Lisa Kleypas for steamy scenes, Judith Ivory for all around excellence, Julia Quinn for great fun, and on and on.
But I most like the category Historical Novel with Romance Elements. These books have more romance probably than Follett or Cornwell insert, but the story is bigger than the evolving relationship of those two people. Consider Evermore which is set in New Orleans during the Civil War. For example, both men and women have to choose between expediency and conscience – if you’re a Southerner and you fight to free the slaves, you are seen as a traitor and you may lose your home, your livelihood, your standing in the community, maybe even your life. This is the kind of meaty book I love to read, and to write.
Would love to know what you habitually choose when you’re book-shopping. (And I don’t know why I can’t get this machine to italicize titles today.)