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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Finding the Perfect Romance Novel...

...Well, searching, anyway.

I asked for romance novel recommendations a couple weeks ago (here and elsewhere), and came up with a long list of possibilities. My laundry list of expectations and requirements for the perfect romance novel was improbable, but I thought I'd try anyway. Here's what I sampled:

Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery: Lightly enjoyable and entertaining. Not nearly as compelling and well-written as Anne of Green Gables. The story line was interesting if predictable once it got going (could see the 'twists' coming miles away). Biggest criticism: I could not get excited about a man named Barney Snaith. Seriously. But a decent romance. Written in 1926 and set in Canada helps with the charm, I suppose.

Highland Fling by Katie Fforde: A guilty pleasure. This contemporary novel was highly entertaining (I'm easily amused), but not particularly well-written (much less masterly) nor particularly decent. British chick lit set in Scotland has an appeal of its own.

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner: A unexpected hit with me. Three women. Three different places in time. One with a tragic story. One with a lifetime of sorrow and regret, but with a handful of days left to find happiness. One with the whole future ahead of her. I found the historical setting, the Salem witch trials, to be fascinating as I haven't learned much about that era yet. The author did spell out the 'lesson to be learned' for the readers, but I'll forgive her. The romance (what there was of it) was understated and decent. Some of the modern elements threw me a bit, as they always seem to leach a little of the elegance out of a story. This one left me thinking after I closed it up, though, and I appreciated that.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Oh. my. What do I say about this one?... It's a page-turner ~ all 600+ of them. Time travel. Scottish Highlands in 1743. Adventure. Alpha-males all over the place. I was quite immersed in the story. Caveats: Very, uh, adult content. (Did I mention the adult content? Just making sure...) Improbable. Brutal. And the male hero is fair and red-headed. Unforgivable.

Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Well-paced, fun, romantic. Very modern and not-so-innocent. Used up a whole day on this one, without putting it down. I feel pretty guilty about losing a whole day.

Conclusion so far: it might be impossible to find a masterfully written, complex, clean love story with a happy ending. But I'll keep searching and let you know.

22 comments:

Amy said...

Have you read Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love? It's a take-off of the Biblical story of Hosea set in the Old West. You might like it.

Heidi said...

I gave it a try a while back, in fact it is still sitting on my book shelf, but I absolutely could not get past the first chapter or two. I don't think I'm up for trying it again. Her Mark of the Lion series is on my list, though.

Louisiana Laura said...

I didn't mention my favorites, because of the (adult content). It's SO hard to find something adult in the pure since of the word, mature in the pure since of the word, and well-written that doesn't have things that, well, you can't recommend to general audiences and specifically to 'your mother'. I read a page turner this summer, 'Prodigal Summer' Barbara Kingsolver, was love- filled, with Romance of the first order. But it's an unlikely top-contender. It's edgy, but I recommend it for the insight into a world of irony & effort into being 'exactly who your are', and perhaps the sticky intimacy that has nothing to do with 'adult-according- to- worldy standards'.
The elderly non-couple were the most precious, who selddom crossed fence-posts, let alone thresholds. PG-13 at least, but a good read, well-written- insight into a modern day Eastern Kentucky Culture that really exists.
It was my end of the summer fictional read. I'm now reading -'Character Matters'(Excellent, excellent non-fiction) as the counter balance -- lol,
Have a wonderful weekend. Laura

Carrie said...

Okay, I'm going to chime in here b/c I saw Francine Rivers mentioned! ;) I read Redeeming Love several years ago and cried for a WEEK!!! It actually made me want to give up fiction ... I don't like to have my emotions played with! :) I did read the Mark of the Lion Trilogy before a trip to Rome and LOVED them (not so much the last one, though!).

Heidi said...

Laura~ Exactly. :) Prodigal Summer actually sounds quite interesting. I might have to put that one on my list. Thanks for sharing.

Heidi said...

Carrie~ You cried for a week? I'm so glad I put that one down. Books like that take too much out of me emotionally. I'm guessing I wouldn't have done too well, either.

Cara said...

Any post about books always catches my eye! I recently finished Outlander too (and wrote a review about it). Loved it, but you're right, there is definitely some adult content. Could have done w/ a little less of that. I'm waiting for the 4th book in the series from the library, and I guess I'm in it til the end (6 books total). Right now I'm reading Vision in White by Nora Roberts. So far it is pretty good, but I wouldn't say I love it. Can't wait to see what you find to read next!

Molly @ A Bit O' Shine said...

I do final reads and copy edits for The Wild Rose Press - their books are shorter (around 300 pages) and TOTAL fluff, guilty pleasures but they have a good variety of genres as well as a good variety of adult content levels so you can pick and choose to have none or lots. I only hated one book they sent me so the odds are pretty good on finding something fun to read. :)

http://www.thewildrosepress.com/

Lindsey St.Hilaire said...

Hi!

I have to defend Redeeming Love here. The first couple of chapters are rough, but it is truly an amazing book. It does play with your emotions, but it was all worth it for me. It is well written, tasteful, and has a great message! I have read it a couple of times because I love it so much. I would actually even go far enough to say it has changed my life and helped me to understand the true meaning of love and marriage.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice? That's another one of my favorites! It is a great love story and very witty! I couldn't put it down.

Good luck on your search.

SKELLER said...

hehe. I knew from comments you made a bit back that you must have picked up Outlander. I've not read it yet, despite numerous enthusiastic acclaim and recommendations (but, most of those recommendations have come from wildly enthusiastic Twilight readers); should I?!?

I just finished Pat Conroy's latest fiction novel. He's been a long-time favorite of mine, and I waited 15 years for him to write a new one. And gosh, now I wish he hadn't. It was dreadful in every way. Blech. Phtooey. Makes me wonder if he didn't really write this one. Or if he never really wrote the others. Because surely this newest book could not be written by the same author as the former books. WHERE WAS HIS EDITOR?!?!?! He needed to be spanked. Grounded. Sent back to ye ol' desk til he got it right... Yikes. Can you tell I'm bothered? I hate to see my favorites sullied in any way...

I love the way you review The Shape of Mercy. Isn't it funny how some books can use all the "hooks" that bug us, and yet are good enough in some way that we enjoy them anyhow?

Btw, I also enjoyed Prodigal Summer (& Pigs in Heaven, and to a lesser degree Bean Trees and Animal Dreams). Different worldview than mine, but good. Solid writing. Characters well drawn.

Annika said...

Hi,
Try "Silk and Stone" by Dinah Dean: history, romance and no adult contents. Most people find it boring but I really like it.
BTW, I read the post you wrote about the Anne books, I strongly recommend "Pat of Silverbush" by LM Montgomery, too. It has become one of my favourites.

Stephanie Carnes said...

For a non-tragic ending love story, I highly recommend you read Dragonfly in Amber, the sequel to Outlander. You are right about the adult content, but (red hair or no)Jamie Fraser is one of the greatest modern romance heroes ever. And if you end up invested in the story, Diana Gabaldon just came out with the seventh book in the series!

carole said...

"Conclusion so far: it might be impossible to find a masterfully written, complex, clean love story with a happy ending. But I'll keep searching and let you know."

:)

You've gotten a lot further than I would have! It sounds like you are looking for "Ruth" or "Jane Eyre" in modern fiction.

I do second the "Prodigal Summer" recommendation. Loved that book. But it does play with you a little bit, too, and is more "adult" than most books I pick out.

Have you ever read "The Hawk and The Dove"? I can't exactly call it a romance novel, but then again, it deals with love in every chapter.

How about the series by Alexander McCall Smith about Isabel Dalhousie? I *love* those, and they are wonderfully written. And they are romance novels, in their own interesting way.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the gripping love story in "Papa Married A Mormon," written memoir style by the author of the Great Brain series. If you are familiar with those books from the boys, you may enjoy the backstory and romance there.

Meredith

Janie said...

Heidi,
You must try "Redeeming Love" again. It is my all time favorite book. Our book club is reading "The Wednesday Letters" it is also a great read but keep a box of kleenex close by.

Heidi said...

Cara~ I headed over for your review. Thanks!

Molly~ See, that's the problem. As much as I enjoy guilty fluff, I'm really trying to find something that isn't either guilty or fluff. It seems everthing on the list I have so far is at least one of those, and if not, it's dark and/or depressing. I really want a beautiful, rich, happy love story without gratuitous adult content....

Lindsey~ I've heard so many people recommend Redeeming Love. I do understand that it has redeeming qualities :) and that it is a fabulous book, I'm just not sure I can take my emotions there just now. I've read part of Pride & Prejudice, but it was hard to make myself read it since I've watched the BBC movie 1,749 times. :) That and North & South are my favorite romance movies. :)

Skeller~ I emailed you. :) Yes, I hate it when a favorite author lets me down. Ugh. Why on earth did it take Conroy 15 years to turn out an awful novel?

Annika~ Thanks for the recommendations! I'll check into those.

Stephanie~ Oh, I *get* why Jamie Fraser is one of the greatest romantic heroes of all time. :)

Meredith~ I did enjoy the Great Brain series. I bet that is a very interesting book. I'm putting it on my list.

Carole~ Actually, I think I'm looking for less tragic/dark than either Jane Eyre or Ruth (though I did love Ruth and will be re-reading Jane Eyre this next month). More like North and South in a modern novel with a little more romance. :) I'm definitely putting Prodigal Summer on my list, and I enjoy the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, so I'll add the Isabel book(s) to my list.

Janie~ See, that's the thing. I don't *want* to cry. :) Which is why I'll never read a Nicholas Sparks book...

Kelly G. said...

Have you read the Mitford series by Jan Karon? Well writen stories with some romance too. The original series that Janette Oak did is wonderful (not the best writing ever, but her best I think). And you can never go wrong with some good, old Jane Austen (my favorite romances ever). I hear you about the fluff reading though... I have read more than my fair share of "cheesy, Amish romance novels..."

Molly @ A Bit O' Shine said...

Oh only a couple they've sent me have had that kind of *ahem oh my* kind of content - I don't want anyone thinking I sit around reading that stuff all the time. :)

Someone suggested P&P and if you like the style but written a little more modern I enjoyed a "spinoff" series by Elizabeth Aston. I think my favorite may have been The Second Mrs. Darcy.

janice said...

Ok - I could watch Pride & Prejudice (the movie 2005) a MILLION times but have yet to dive into the 2 copies of the novel itself that I have-- but if you like Francine Rivers -- try Karen Kingsbury - she is a Christian author that wrote the Redemption series (I think 5 books which several friends of mine -- TESTIFY TO THEIR GREATNESS)
I have not read them yet-- BUT I just finished a 2 book series by Karen Kingsbury set in current times - called "Even Now" and its follow up 2nd book - "Ever After"
TRUE love, young love, lost love (I cried my eyes out in the second one) and a GREAT ENDING!!! - most importantly FOR ME -- no cursing and good clean writing --- hope you give her a try :)

love your blog and lovely life - btw :)

Blessings
Janice

janice said...

Oh I forgot - my friend has the mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers and says that they not only are great-- but renew & replenish her faith in God also -
I also liked Phillipa Gregory - "The Queens Fool" love that Tudor Era - but turned off a bit by "the Other Boleyn Girl"

also the "Time Travelers Wife" (the book) was a turn off - VERY SECULAR!!!
:)
I just bought Jane Eyre so I am looking forward to that one!

Chrissie said...

Have to second (fourth?) Redeeming Love! It's a good emotional story, though I understand if you don't want any emotion now, but when you're ready, read it!!! I've read it at least ten times, it's so amazing. Her other books, the Mark of the Lion series, are also wonderful. Definitely not light and fluffy, but very moving.

A totally fluffy, super-fun-super-quick-super-frilly read is anything by Sophie Kinsella/Madeline Wickham. They are pretty clean and a great way to waste a day :)

And don't waste your time on "The Time Travelers Wife," like Janice said. If books alter your mood at all (like they do mine), you'll be in a funky mood for days.

Anonymous said...

I was going to recommend some of my favorites...mostly Nicholas Sparks....until I read your comment above about not wanting to cry. :) If you were to read any of his I would suggest The Lucky One. or Dear John. or True Believer and it's sequel At First Sight. Just to name a few! Oh, have you ever read The Little Minister by James Barrie? You might like it.
Happy Reading!
Amy Jones