Favorites. We all have them. Sure, we love reading romance, which is a wide, wide umbrella, and we know that any romance novel is going to give us that emotionally uplifting ending we crave. Still, there are infinite variations on how that happily ever after (or happy for now) can come about, and there are as many favorite flavors as there are readers who love them. Across genera, authors, formats, and market trends, we each have those few special favorites that will make us take at least a second look at a book we might otherwise have given a pass. Whether it’s a setting, trope, subgenre, or character type, these things will catch our attention every single time, no exceptions. What makes a favorite? Let’s have a look.
First and Favorite: Sometimes, we know, right from the start. One reader (who also writes these posts) fell madly in love with historical romance when she stole her mother’s copy of The Kadin, by Bertrice Small, from her mother’s nightstand. Sure, she’d seen dozens of historicals pass from aunt to mom, drooled over the gorgeous covers, but was told she was too young to read these grownup books. She’d managed to resist, until this one, and, within pages, knew she’d never go back to the way things were before. Coughtycough decades later, she’s still in love with historical romance, still in love with the big sagas, and now has a bookcase devoted solely to Small. That original copy of The Kadin has seen a lot of wear, several moves, and a lot of reads. Mom read it once, daughter, ummm… :shifty eyes: more than that. She’s probably not done yet. Would she still have the same devotion to the book if it hadn’t been her first? No way to tell, but what an introduction; no regrets.
Acquired Tastes: Other times, we’re not sure about a new addition to our reading routine. We were doing quite fine, thankyouverymuch, reading, let’s say, the four category lines to which we subscribe through the mail or always pick up at the bookstore, and, then, there’s this other book. Maybe we’ve been fine reading one author, maybe an author whose book we stole, perhaps, from our mother’s nightstand, but, one day, the unthinkable happens, and we’ve read them all. Worse than that, we’ve read them all and the next one isn’t coming out for a while. What to do, what to do? Take a chance on another read, of course, and then, wonder of wonders, we like it. We really like it. Maybe a reader was prickly about time travels at first, but tried a few, and now not only has strong opinions on whether the HEA should take past in the earlier or later time frame, but methods of time travel, and locations both to and from. For example, westerns and Regencies are okay, as long as the HEA is historical, but sixteenth or seventeenth century, even for a teeny portion of the book? Gimme.
Say No More: These are the readers’ versions of the famous movie line, “you had me at hello.” As in shut up and take my money, the sale is made, quit selling. The (not entirely) hypothetical reader from above has a few of these herself. Even a passing mention of Bedlam asylum or Newgate Prison? Give. Now. Then shush, mama’s reading. No further information needed, as long as one of the two lovers spends any amount of time in one of those places, that book is now on this reader’s TBR shelf. No, let’s be honest, it goes right to the top of the list. This may feel morbid or unusual for a romance, but the reader’s heart wants what it wants. It’s a romance; the characters aren’t going to stay there, and the odds for a dramatic rescue are pretty darned high. Heroine disguised as male, especially when there’s some thought put into it, past a baggy shirt and stuffing her hair in a hat? Mine. Uh, hypothetical reader’s, that is. Moving along.
Just My Type: Sometimes, the selling point isn’t a point at all, but a person. Maybe it’s the smart-mouthed sidekick (whether or not they get a turn as the main character in a subsequent book) or dastardly villain who is a master of disguise. Maybe it’s a hero or heroine with a certain profession or character trait. Some readers will dive on a wallflower heroine faster than a cat on a can of tuna fish, double points if she has her heart set on an alpha male, while others like to flip the script and pounce on a strong-willed heroine and a hero who doesn’t know what hit him. In the case of our hypothetical reader, all she needs to know is that two alphas have their sights set on each other, and she will happily sit back and watch the fireworks play out. Hero or heroine in the theater? Sold. Pirate or privateer? Please. That is at least getting a skim.
Feels Like Home: No matter if it’s a small town front porch, a big city penthouse, rural ranch or historical castle, every reader has that place that, whenever it appears, they pretty much know their way around. Not that the author can’t throw in a surprise or two, but a reader knows the basics of these places, which enriches the experience. Maybe it’s a spooky mansion on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe it doesn’t matter which side. Maybe it does. There’s no right or wrong in finding a favorite fictional home. When you find yours, you know.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What are your favorite elements that guarantee you’ll be taking at least a second look at a new romance novel, or those that bring you back to your favorites, time and again? Is it a plot element, character type, time period or location? Do you have a favorite subgenre? Is your best of the best something else entirely? If it’s all good to you, we want to hear about that, too. Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.