This week’s TTT list was difficult (let’s say that’s why I’m late posting it… yeah, let’s say that)! Mostly, I found it challenging because it’s not my genre. I read stories that have elements of romance, but not romance novels. So, when confronted with the things I love/hate about romance novels, I wasn’t sure where to start. Everything I came up with fit into both categories. There are books that do it well and books that do it terribly. So, eventually I decided that the only option was to do exactly that – tell you the things that stand out in romance novels as good and bad. I’m going to pick the top five things that popped into my head.
Instalove – this is a trope in a lot of romance novels, especially YA romances. Two people see each other for the first time and fall instantly in mad, crazy, foolish, unbelievable love. It’s terrible. And it never feels real. But sometimes, an author is able to make it feel right. They create a build up to the relationship even when the feelings are instantaneous.
The Bad The Good
Twilight Series – it took me a while to figure out where this was going to fit on the list. It could work for the how it’s been done wrong book in every single category, but that would be boring. And it’s not the only bad book out there. It shouldn’t get all the glory. It’s just kind of spectacular in its own right. Never have two characters been less captivating than Bella and Edward. Nowhere in the four books do I ever believe that they’re actually in love. It’s all so surface. They are always just going through the motions.
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares – How can instalove ever been done right? The concept in itself is so completely wrong. But it can be done, especially when it’s done slowly. The characters know from their first moment together that there’s a spark, but it takes some time to build into what it will eventually become. Dash and Lily fall for each other from the very first interaction. Trading quips in writing. Harkening back to those old classics where everything happens in writing. And when they finally meet face to face, it still takes some work. So, while they knew from the beginning that there was something between them, it takes time to make the relationship work.
Love “Triangles” – the quintessential romance trope. Girl meets perfect boy. Falls for boy. Meets second boy. Second boy is near perfect. Girl loves both. Girl picks one. When this is done correctly, you’re never really sure which couple is going to end up together because they would both work for very different reasons. When these don’t work, they just feel like formula. And I’m not even going to get into the fact that this isn’t a triangle – unless the boys also want each other. This is a < sign.
The Bad The Good
Delirium Series – The reason the love triangle in this book doesn’t work is exactly what I just said. Formula. It feels like paint by numbers. At no point did I ever think the Lena was ever going to choose the second boy, even though she thought the first boy was dead. This ties in directly to the pay off, which I talk about below.
Bitten – Kelley Armstrong makes my list twice this week. She writes entertaining couplings. If you’ve watched the tv show, just pretend you haven’t, the books are way better. The ‘triangle’ here is between Elana, Clay, and Philip. You know with certainty that she has an actual dilemma. A real choice with real emotions. Be with the guy she feels intensely, passionately connected to or with the one that will give her the life she desperately wants. She has to choose. Her choice with literally impact the entire direction of her life. Now, I knew which one she was going to pick, but the struggle felt genuine.
Intimacy, and by that I mean the sex – What good romance novel doesn’t contain good sex? A bad one. But the inclusion of sex doesn’t automatically make it a good novel. Done wrong or gratuitously and it ruins a book. Done right, well, fire in the loins and such.
The Bad The Good
Fifty Shades of Grey Series– Another series that could have fit in any category. I really had to choose between this one and the last one. But it just fit so well here. It would be a disservice to put it anywhere else. The go to book of a couple years ago for sex among the mommy types. And yes, it is chock full of sex. It got the nature of the type of sex it was trying to portray so very wrong, but that wasn’t its greatest sin. No. Not by a long shot. The real sin here is the main character’s golly-gee reaction to her physical experiences. It reads so false. So False!
No Humans Involved – This book falls into the same series as Bitten but is like eight books later. It contains some great erotic scenes. There’s no odd animal on human stuff here. Just two people who happen to have some otherworldly powers who want to bang the hell out of each other. The particular scene I’m thinking of happens between Jamie and Jeremy. Is it the smuttiest scene I’ve ever read? Nope. And it doesn’t need to be to be good.
The payoff – The payoff is the most important part of a romance novel. The anticipation. The build up to what’s coming. But that doesn’t mean it needs to take books, or even just one entire book, for characters to get together. It can be a long process or a short process. It just needs to be there. I need to feel for the character. Their longing needs to be there. That almost desperation. Desire. Desire is key.
The Bad The Good
The Chicagoland Vampire series – Okay. This little paragraph here is going to contain a serious series spoiler, so if you’re reading these and haven’t hit book four yet, you should probably stop. When Ethan dies, it was a crucial moment to the series. It was perfect. Merit is going to suffer. The next book is going to be full of her pain. Or her grappling with her future. It could have been the defining moment in the series. But it wasn’t. Why? Because the author brings him back from the dead in a hot second. There’s no pay off here. Let her suffer. Let her get on with her life. Let Merit start figuring out who she is without Ethan, then bring him back. That would have been mind blowing. But no. Instead we get him back immediately and everything is all hunky dory again. It actually ruined the series for me. I stopped reading the series not long after this. It makes me sad.
Cormoran Strike Series – There are two books out in this series and the romantic tension between Coroman and Robyn is intense. The tension between them is a payoff in itself. They still aren’t together, but I’m almost desperate for the next book so I can see if they ever get together. I kind of hope they don’t. I love the way they act with each other and I can’t wait to see how Rowling moves their relationship forward. It’s desire, and in this case, it’s my desire to know what’s going to happen.
Shallow Characters – character development is important in any story, regardless of genre. But for some reason, shallow characters seem to run rampant in the romance genre (and the mystery genre, but that’s a topic for another post). Especially YA novels. It’s a shame really, and it will make me stop reading a book pretty damn fast. I don’t need to like the characters, but I need to believe that they could exist as real people.
The Bad The Good
Watch Me – This book follows a young girl who in her first year of university who breaks up with her long-time boyfriend and starts dating her roommate. Romance gold, right? Nope. The characters are so shallow and one dimensional that I had to go look up their names because I couldn’t remember them. And then I had to look them up again because I forgot in the time it took me to get back to this post. Allie is a boring girl who is only interested in people for the way they can help her interests. Her love interest does nothing but workout and let her choose the shows they watch… Books like this disregard the depth of emotion teenage characters can show while still being true to the rollercoaster of emotions that are that part of growing up.
A Certain Slant of Light – I’m choosing this book because it’s another YA novel and it does the job of building characters in this ethereal, believable way. In this book we get characters that barely know themselves trying to portray people they know almost nothing about, and yet I still felt for them. I wanted Helen and James to find a way to be together. To be able to connect with one another, even though that means taking away the lives of other people. Self-discovery is a huge part of this novel, and its characters have been around for a long time. We’re even able to connect with Billy and Jenny, and they’re basically non-entities for the entirety of the novel. It’s so well structured.
What are your romance novel loves/hates? Recommendations for ones that do it well? Ones to avoid like my life depends on it?